Two years ago, during the 2019-20 school year, the Pendleton School District’s School to Careers program was right where it wanted to be. Program administrators had spent the last couple of years designing the program, making community connections, and determining how students would be recruited. And then the COVID pandemic hit.
Curt Thompson, Assistant Principal at Pendleton High School, knew School to Careers was taking off prior to COVID because businesses had started reaching out to them about School to Careers opportunities rather than the program contacting businesses first.
School to Careers is a program for high school students to learn about potential careers through job shadows, internships, and guest speakers from business and industry. The program is funded through a variety of grants and is operated through the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce. The program has been paused for two years, but last fall, the district hired a new coordinator, Patti Hyatt, and exciting things are happening again. Hyatt has been reconnecting with regional business owners who are willing to participate – 160 business partners were on board pre-COVID.
Jill Gregg, PHS ASPIRE Coordinator, works closely with School to Careers and said the original collaborations still exist. “Many of the working relationships are still there, we have some catching up to do, but we’re still friends.”
The purpose of School to Careers is to offer students still in high school a glimpse of what a career path they are considering is actually like. “Essentially, it’s an opportunity for young people to walk in someone else’s career shoes, a great tool to help students determine what they like and don’t like about a certain field,” Gregg said.
Thompson said another goal of the program is to grow the local workforce. He said the program provides business owners a voice in shaping future employees by working with the high school to build necessary skills in students now. Finally, School to Careers wants to increase occupational literacy – awareness of what careers and jobs exist.
One way to increase that awareness is through Work It Wednesdays, where employees of local businesses are invited to speak to small groups of PHS students in the classroom of Sonia Cooley, PHS Business Instructor. On Wednesday, February 16th, Steve Lawn, Chief Engineer at the Pendleton UAS Range, was the guest speaker.
Lawn talked a little about his long and circuitous route to get to his current career. The journey includes a love of airplanes in early childhood, quitting one college program, and finally finding a school in Tennessee with a program that fit.
During his talk with students, he discussed how good, high-paying jobs at the UAS range are available without a college degree, and there are dozens of current job openings. Lawn said the City of Pendleton range is working diligently to prevent potential employees from leaving the local area and to raise the quality of life here. The UAS Range offers summer internships for young people, which Lawn hopes students will look into. “Getting a degree about airplanes to make a successful career is something I wished I had known was possible when I was 16 years old,” Lawn said.
For more information about School to Careers, contact Patti Hyatt at School2careers@pendletonchamber.com.