More than 1,000 eighth graders from 12 area schools got to explore the possibilities Friday during Regional Office of Education 47′s inaugural Pathway Playground at Sauk Valley Community College.
Some were doing what 13-year-old Renzije Dzeladini of Morrison described as “sampling.”
Her fourth stop during the career fair was the booth for VeriFacts, the employment verification firm based in Sterling.
Guided by VeriFacts’ performance specialist Shaunte Padilla, Dzeladini went through the verification process using a phone and an internet browser-based software.
Image 1 of 7
Nevaeh Scheffner, 13, tries on a medical smock while assisted by Rita Yahnke, a registered nurse who works at KSB Hospital in Dixon, on Friday, Oct. 14, at Sauk Valley Community College. More than 1,000 eighth-graders explored more than 50 career opportunities during Pathway Playground, an activity organized by Regional Office of Education 47. (Troy Taylor)
“We like to think of ourselves as mini private investigators,” Padilla said, “except we work at a desk.”
Good phone etiquette is a must. But even that process is becoming modernized. The company will be making more and more inquiries with a text message-based system.
Dzeladini said she has her sights set on becoming a teacher or a nurse, but she’s not discounting any other careers just yet. Mainly, she’s just taking advantage of the chance to explore other jobs.
There was plenty to see – more than 50 employers or career associations had booths set up in the school’s Dillon Mall.
Vanessa Wessels, engagement director at VeriFacts, said the spirit of the day was to demonstrate to young people that they can have different options.
“If you can find something that helps you grow, give it a shot,” she said.
Chanda McDonnell is a pathway navigator for ROE 47. The model for this type of career fair is one that’s been held in the Rockford area for several years. But this was the first real opportunity since the COVID-19 outbreak for ROE 47 to stage this kind of event.
The Pathways program is all about giving high school students a chance to earn college credit and gain hands-on work experience in their chosen field. Students who complete the requirements receive a Pathways certification for their high school diploma.
In this region, the emphasis so far has been on helping aspiring teachers: 10 graduated from four area schools with the education certification in 2022, the Illinois State Board of Education said Thursday.
McDonnell said expanding Pathways so it offers certifications in the health sciences, agriculture and manufacturing is up next. Rock Falls and Fulton high schools, for example, have started offering manufacturing programs, although their participants have not yet graduated.
Friday was about having employers share their career options, satisfying the curiosity of eighth-grade students so they have time to explore those job requirements.
McDonnell said the day was significant, noting “for eighth graders just to have that mindset, like, ‘Know what I’m really interested in? The engineering field. What do I need to take in high school?’ ”
Talking to people in related fields at this event can reinforce their class selection, McDonnell said. It gives them a chance to explore the discipline as a freshman and sophomore, start them off with that extra science class or extra math class needed to be an engineer.
But it’s happening early enough in their high school career that they have time to shift gears if need be.
“When they start, they have time to try something else, and that’s what we’re trying to give them, you know?” she said. “They can just try, see what they can do, see where their interests are and, hopefully, spark something in them.”
Jerrie Garcia, Ohnaka Garcia and Kari Brown were at the booth for the Lotus Wellness Spa and Salon of Rock Falls, explaining the boom that their business in the health and wellness sphere is having. They had an attentive audience: A group of female students were clustered around listening.
Jerrie Garcia said their massage therapy service has been in high demand since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Sterling Police Department booth had a display that included its community service dog. Members of the Illinois State Police were demonstrating some gear. There was a selection of firefighting devices made by Dinges Fire Co. based in Amboy. The Dixon Fire Department had compartments of a fire engine open for inspection in the parking lot.
Over at the Illinois Department of Transportation booth, students were being routed through a pedestrian roundabout. The local unit of the Plumbers and Pipefitters also were on hand.
There were local exhibitors in the fields of health sciences and technology, manufacturing and trades, agriculture and food services, information and technology, and public services. In all, 16 career clusters were represented.
One of the more popular agricultural science demonstrations was conducted by Sauk Valley Community College instructors Michael Selover and Kevin Larsen. They launched a sensor-equipped drone that could identify blighted or diseased sections of a field, download that location data to a computer-guided tractor equipped with a sprayer, and efficiently apply chemicals to the affected area.
Selover said the next step with the technology is to use larger drones to do the spraying instead of a tractor.
In another section, Nevaeh Scheffner, 13, was all smiles while trying on a medical smock at a booth for KSB Hospital. Although she has an aunt who is a doctor, she’s more interested in nursing.
Her take on the size of the fair?
“A lot of stuff,” she said.
But not too much to take in.
That’s good, because McDonnell hopes that next year she’ll be able to increase both the number of businesses in attendance and students participating.