Sauk Valley high schools celebrate students joining local businesses

Work-based learning programs set students on career paths

High school students from the Whiteside Area Career Center's manufacturing and automotive departments were recognized Friday, May 17, 2024, for their intent to join the workforce after high school. Six local companies have offered positions to the students.

ROCK FALLS – The Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, Regional Office of Education 47 and Whiteside Area Career Center teamed up Friday to host their first signing day for high school students who are joining the local workforce after graduation.

Signing day, more traditionally reserved for student-athletes, was reimagined as a way to recognize the graduates who are going straight to work rather than pursuing a higher education. Since they don’t get the big graduation ceremony that college students do, “we wanted to find a way to celebrate them,” WACC Executive Director Josh Johnson said in an interview with Shaw Local.

Five Rock Falls High School seniors, who completed the school’s industrial arts program while on the manufacturing pathway, signed with two local businesses to begin full-time positions after graduation.

Rock Falls High School seniors; Israel Alvarado, Michael Smit, Michael Flowers Kyler Baldwin (Back Right), and Jonathan Virgili (from Left to Right); celebrate signing day on Friday, May 15.

Kyler Baldwin, Michael Flowers and Jonathan Virgili signed with the Innovative Fluid Handling Group, a manufacturer in Whiteside County. Michael Smit and Israel Alvarado signed with TCI Manufacturing in Walnut.

Israel Alvarado (Left) and Michael Smit (Right) sign with TCI Manufacturing in Walnut at Rock Falls High School during "signing day" on Friday, May 17.

High school students who are on a career pathway such as manufacturing earn a designation in their chosen field that will be displayed on their high school diploma. They must complete an individualized learning plan and a career-focused instructional sequence as well as experience professional learning opportunities such as career-exploration activities, 60 hours of hands-on career development experiences and two team-based challenges.

The industrial arts program was created as a pathway program at RFHS. Area high schools that don’t have their own program use the programs at WACC to provide students with pathway opportunities, Heather Waninger, pathway navigator at ROE 47, said in an interview with Shaw Local.

Lee, Ogle and Whiteside County high schools work with ROE 47 to design programs, such as the industrial arts program, and various other consulting and coordinating tasks. High schools that are members of the career center use WACC to provide students with unique opportunities. WACC has many career-focused instructional programs such as culinary arts, allied health and more.

Then, the Sauk Valley Area Chamber of Commerce connects the school-specific programs or the ones at WACC with local businesses. Students are able to connect with potential employers outside the pressure of a formal interview.

Later Friday, WACC hosted its first work-based learning signing day at the career center in Sterling for students who completed the automotive technology or welding and manufacturing programs. A total of nine students signed with six local businesses. They were:

  • Carter Blevins, Eastland High School, who signed with Forester Products, a manufacturing company in Lanark.
  • Clayton Gerlach, of Prophetstown High School, who signed with Midwest Bio-Systems, a farming equipment supplier in Tampico.
  • Garrett Galentine, of Prophetstown High School; Evan Entas, Bureau Valley High School; and Jaiden Orr, Prophetstown High School, who all signed with TCI Manufacturing in Walnut.
  • Kain Ketchum and Luke Corcoran, both of Amboy High School, signed with Allied-Locke Industries, a manufacturing company in Lee County.
  • Isaac Floming, Fulton High School, who signed with A. C. McCartney, an agricultural and outdoor equipment dealership that has locations in Durand, Wataga, Carthage, Mount Sterling and Fulton.
  • Josh Schumacher, Dixon High School, who signed with Douglas & Frye, a motorcycle dealer in Sterling.

Hosting a signing day is something that WACC officials said they had thought about doing for a while. In the future, they hope to expand and include more programs in the celebration – specifically the computer technology and digital media arts programs, Johnson said.

At the event, Kris Noble, executive director of the SVACC, said it’s important to celebrate the students because they are influencing the community by going out and working at local businesses.

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Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.