Future Fest helps students think ahead

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The present and future of the workforce met at Liberty Hill High School Sept. 19 for Future Fest.

This year, the career-planning and information event covered more than 100 different career options and gave every high school student the chance to learn about fields that meet their particular interests.

Future Fest was far different than the original event in 2003.

“That was pretty much just bringing a few people in,” said organizer and Career and Technology Education Director Kristy Kercheville. “We hit the seniors generally in the beginning, and then literally the last three times we have had it it has expanded every year. Probably 2013, 2016 and this year were the biggest ones.”

The expansion has been critical to helping students keep up with new requirements for graduation.

“Now that endorsements are here, and kids are actually trying to figure out more the program of study they are going to look at, it’s a little bit easier for the kids to pick their interests.”

The presentations covered all 16 career clusters, according to Kercheville.

“We had 85 different presenters, and the rest were static displays or table exhibits,” she said.

A Workforce grant has made it possible for the dramatic expansion of the program.

“Two years ago, I applied for a grant with Workforce and we got the grant,” Kercheville said. “It was when the Chamber, the EDC and the district all aligned. This last time I just applied for it as a district.”

Today, the event begins with students signing up for speakers in their area of career interest.

“We actually put them through a schedule,” Kercheville said. “They went through their English classes and signed up, getting to pick three and leave one open for the outside and static displays.”

She said the passage of House Bill 5 in 2015, has students now picking an endorsement and program of study going into their freshman year. It is similar to having a major in high school.

“Times have changed,” Kercheville said. “Literally last year was our first year of students who graduated under the endorsement program. So those programs are actually a study – whether it be engineering, a fine art, criminal justice, culinary or another – and they pick that program of study and they complete the requirements under that.”

It all boils down to improving readiness for the next step after high school, whatever it may be.

“Colleges were finding that kids were coming into college not college and career ready,” Kercheville said. “They didn’t have enough English or math, so they were having to take developmental classes their freshman year.

“Now, when they go into college, career or the military, they’re already prepared versus two to five years where those kids were paying to take classes to get up to where they’d be successful sitting in that first college classroom.”

Living in such a digital world creates a disadvantage for students in some cases when it comes to communication skills for job searches and work, she said.

“One of the biggest things they’re saying is having kids that can have that communication or those writing or processing skills if they don’t go to college is a challenge,” Kercheville said. “Now, when they step out of high school they’re going to be ready to accept that challenge and be successful in that first college class or be ready when they meet that first employer.”

The endorsement tracks and vigilant counselors keep students going in the right direction, but Future Fest is one more way to promote thinking through career options.

“I think our counselors do a good job, but the nice thing this does for them is it gets them thinking,” Kercheville said. “Otherwise, if it’s out of sight it’s out of mind. I truly believe when kids come in as freshmen they might start on one program of study, and their sophomore year, after they take that first principles class they might realize it’s not for them. And that’s okay, it’s a fluid document, and they can look at it again.”

Sometimes, there is as much benefit for a student in learning what is not right for them as learning what is.

“The one thing I’ve seen through all these years is sometimes kids come back and they’re like, ‘I tried this, I liked it, but I realized it’s not what I want to do,’” Kercheville said. “To me, sometimes checking off or crossing out is just as good in the process. I truly believe the kids have a lot of stressors in their lives that we never had to think about, and endorsements and pathway gives them a thing to focus on. Whether they veer or it’s fluid or they transition out of it, that’s okay, but they need to know they need to be thinking about their future.”

Kercheville said transitioning to college is easier with the new plan, and whether students choose a trade or skill that doesn’t include college, or simply want to employ skills learned in high school while working through college, the increased readiness is key.

“We have a great welding program, culinary program, business program, where they earn our business industry certifications so if they go on to college and use it as a part time job in the summer to make money, they can actually make more money because of those industry certifications,” Kercheville said. “I truly believe our kids are having to have higher rigor. But I truly believe it is going to help them be more successful.”

Feedback from teachers who get to watch their students interact with the visitors making the presentations tells Kercheville that Future Fest is also working well to tie the community closer together.

“Teachers tell me they never realized the professionals were excited about coming and talking to our kids,” she said. “Some were surprised at some of the questions the students asked, and had no idea the students didn’t already know some of that.”

The partnership with area businesses is invaluable, according to Kercheville.

“I love that our community and our business people were so excited to come and give back to our kids. Our district is so grateful for that,” she said. “It does take a village, because whether it is here at school or in your home life or out in the community, everyone takes part in how our kids are educated. With the ever-changing world we are living in now, it is going to take everybody to get our kids prepared.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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