COVENTRY — With their high school years fast approaching, eighth graders in Coventry were given a chance this week to explore all that awaits them beyond the hallways and classrooms of Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School.
“It’s funny — many of our students who are here as high schoolers were here as eighth graders, and that’s how they chose their programs,” Coventry Career and Technical Center Director Lori Ferguson said, standing in the middle school gymnasium during a career fair Wednesday.
The fair, held each fall, brought high school students to the middle school to demonstrate to eighth graders what each career and technical program has to offer.
“It’s so important for kids in eighth grade to know what their opportunities are at the high school prior to getting there,” Ferguson continued, “so that they can prepare to enter those classes.”
Table displays along the gym’s perimeter provided glimpses into more than a dozen programs offered at the career and technical center: mannequin heads donning wigs peered over an arrangement of artificial nails at the cosmetology table; hammers and tape measures and a tool belt lined the carpentry table; a tray of chocolate-frosted cake beckoned students to the culinary arts table.
Caroline LaPrise, one of three culinary teachers at the high school, said she hoped to give the eighth graders a taste of what her program is all about.
“With culinary, specifically, there’s tons of different things that we do,” she said, standing with a group of high school students wearing red chef coats. “They get to put their hands in a lot of different things under the culinary umbrella.”
In another room, meanwhile, a discussion panel of high school students shared information about various honors programs and Advanced Placement classes.
The hope in holding the event, said Lori Lebrun, a guidance counselor at the middle school, was that eighth graders would leave it with a full understanding of the programs available to them.
The first annual career fair was held four years ago. Before that, Lebrun said, students entering the high school typically had no idea what each of the career and technical programs offered.
“This really kicks off the transition,” Lebrun said of the fair, the first of several planned events to prepare eighth graders for high school, as students bustled around her from one station to the next.
At one table, Alexis Berdelotti, Olivia Terra and Issabella Sweet spoke with middle schoolers about Skills USA, an organization that invites students of the various career and tech programs to compete against their counterparts from other schools.
“It’s to prepare them for a career, prepare them for life, and to teach them some leadership skills,” Terra, a sophomore in the criminal justice program, said of Skills USA.
For her, the program has helped her hone her presentation skills while allowing her to explore potential career paths.
“It’s just all around an amazing program,” she said.
As for the career fair, Berdelotti touted the event as an opportunity to expose the soon-to-be ninth graders to their options so they can jump right in next year.
Berdelotti, a senior, entered as a freshman into the health careers program, and since has learned first aid, CPR, basic life support and is a licensed certified nursing assistant. She’s also currently enrolled in an emergency medical technician course and a patient care technician course.
At a station nearby, Jaden Gonsalves, a senior in the automotive program, also spoke of the benefits of Coventry’s career and tech programs.
Standing beside a table draped with a Skills USA state championship banner, Gonsalves noted that the skills automotive students earn can be transferred into immediate careers.
“College is really expensive,” he said over the sound of a drill being operated by an eighth grader practicing a tire rotation. “You may major in something where there’s not a lot of job opportunities, and now you’ve got all this debt. The thing with automotive is that you can go straight into the field from high school, if you want.”
Lebrun shared a similar sentiment. Through courses at the career and technical center, she said, students are able to rule out majors before spending money on college courses.
Her son, for example, had thought as a high school student that he’d like eventually to major in computer engineering.
“When he went through the program [in high school], he loved it, but he realized he didn’t want to do computer engineering for the rest of his life,” Lebrun said. “But he applied for electrical engineering in college, and he’s using all the skills that he learned.”
It wasn’t only students who got to check out the fair Wednesday — parents also got the chance to explore the programs their children may one day be enrolled in.
“A lot of families look into other schools with career and tech programs, not even knowing what we have to offer,” Lebrun said
Ferguson added that she’d like next year to invite sixth graders to the fair to get them thinking about their futures even sooner.
In fact, she added, there’s currently a plan in the works to develop career awareness at the elementary level, so that by the time students reach middle school they can begin to narrow their interests down to the programs offered at the high school.
“It gives them a purpose for learning,” Ferguson added, “and shows them how to connect everything they’re learning to something that they really want to do in the future.”