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A Time to Explore

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Area High School Students Get a Jump Start on Their Careers Before Graduation

By Lisa Gregory

At least now she knew. 

A student in Justine Sieg’s Career and Work class at Gettysburg Area High School had her sights set on a career in the health field. And, as part of the mandatory course for sophomores, she was required to job shadow at a local medical facility to learn more about her chosen profession.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned. At the first sight of blood, the student got nauseous and had to leave early, Sieg recalls. “She said, ‘Nope, that’s not for me,’” Sieg says. “We laughed about it later.”

Another career choice no doubt would be in order. And with plenty of time to consider it. 

The Career and Work class along with the Adams County Technical Institute (ACTI), located on the grounds of Gettysburg Area High School, are giving students a jump start on their careers even before they graduate. 

“It’s a time to explore,” says Sieg.  

The Career and Work class includes not only job shadows, but resume writing, mock interviews, and even a unit on budgeting and what to expect financially after that potential job has been acquired. And the class can be an excellent prelude to those considering going on to ACTI. 

ACTI was formerly Adams County Tech Prep and had been overseen by the Gettysburg Area School District before recently becoming its own independent entity. The institute offers seven career programs for juniors and seniors from the school districts of Bermudian Springs, Conewago Valley, Littlestown, Fairfield, and, of course, Gettysburg. These programs are in allied health, building trades, computer networking, culinary arts, diesel mechanics, criminal justice, and early learning. 

With an emphasis on hands-on experience, ACTI’s programs are taught by industry professionals with plenty of real world experience of their own.

“I think it is a huge advantage for them to take a program such as mine or any of the programs we offer,” says Jim Penton, who teaches diesel mechanics and has spent 35 years in the industry. “Students get a chance to see what the industry expects from them. It’s also about finding their place and finding something that interests them.”

College credit and industry certifications can also be available through ACTI programs. Some students go directly to work from high school. Others choose to pursue secondary education and use their experiences with ACTI as a springboard. 

In fact, according to Shawn Eckenrode, ACTI’s administrative director, studies have shown that students who take career and technical education courses in high school are more likely to be successful in college. “They are more comfortable with the hands-on part of college, such as working in labs,” he says. “They have previous experience with it.”

But no matter what path they choose, they are well prepared. 

Students in Pat O’Leary’s criminal justice program, for example, are well-versed in the actualities of law enforcement. In his class, lessons range from analyzing fingerprints and footprints to how to make an arrest. 

And his almost-three decades of experience as a police officer has provided him keen insight into the criminal mind. 

Take room searches, for example. “I have two classrooms, and I’ll hide students in my classrooms while the rest sit out in the hallway,” says O’Leary. “I’ll have two students come in, and they have to try and locate the students who are hiding. They can’t find them. And they can’t believe they’ve searched both rooms and can’t find them. They’ll say to me, ‘Mr. O, you’re really good at hiding people.’ I tell them, ‘Well, after 28 years in law enforcement, I’ve learned you will find people in the strangest locations.’” 

Among O’Leary’s former students, plenty have gone on to successful careers in law enforcement, but they also include a young man who is now a lawyer. Students in the programs can take the knowledge they have gained and use it as they see fit while their careers take shape. That includes jumping right into the workforce like many of the diesel mechanic students, who are always in demand.

 “There are jobs out there,” says Penton. “All these shops are always looking for good technicians.” 

Instructors like Penton can prove to be valuable in that aspect as well. ACTI instructors have contacts at local companies and are aware of jobs that might be available within their program areas. 

And whether students go into the workforce directly or on to secondary education, instructors can continue to be a valuable resource even after high school graduation. 

 Alexis Jaqueth experienced this firsthand. 

Jaqueth, a 2019 New Oxford High School graduate now studying at Pittsburgh Technical College, was a student in the ACTI culinary arts program. Since graduating, she has remained in touch with Jeremy Schaffner, the program’s instructor and part-owner of The Cake Bar in Hanover. “He’s always been there for me ever since I started college,” she says. “If there’s something in class I don’t understand, I will ask him if he can help me and he does.”

Jaqueth, who hopes to own her own restaurant someday, thinks her high school culinary classes enabled her to be better prepared as she continues her education.
“I knew so much right off the bat,” she says. 

In the culinary arts program, Jaqueth had access to a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen, learning everything from knife skills to baking and pastry. She says she especially enjoyed the menu design unit, which gives students the opportunity to develop their own themed restaurant and culminates in a student-lead menu that is open to the public. 

“I did an Italian menu my senior year,” she says. “I was running the kitchen, prepping for a week, and producing the menu. It was a really valuable experience for me.”

While Jared Herr’s career plans did not fit within the confines of the career programs offered while he was a student at Gettysburg Area High School, his experience in defining his future professional plans was no less valuable—especially with his job shadowing opportunity through the Class and Work course.

“I went to New York City and spent the day on a set for an entire shoot,” says Herr, who can’t remember a time when he wasn’t interested in filmmaking, even making his own short videos with the family camcorder as a little boy. 

His uncle worked for the Science Channel at the time, and Herr inquired whether there might be an opportunity for a job shadowing experience there. As a result, Herr was allowed to visit the set of the show “All-American Maker.” 

“It was a fascinating experience,” says Herr, now a junior at Davidson College in North Carolina studying film and media. “I learned about filmmaking and sat right next to the director. It really solidified my interest in this as a possible career.”

But his opportunities did not stop there. During his senior year he was granted permission to create a television show for the high school, called the “Warrior Wire.” “We tried to base it off ‘The Daily Show’ a little bit,” he says. “The teachers and administrators all the way up to the superintendent really embraced it and supported it. That was really cool.”

And beneficial. 

“My experience in high school really played a huge role in helping me determine my future,” says Herr.  

Builders Association of Adams County’s Student Scholarship

In order to support future construction and skilled trade students, the Builders Association of Adams County offers Adams County high school graduates who have been accepted into a state-certified post-high school program the opportunity to apply. Students or graduates of Bermudian Springs, Biglerville, Delone Catholic, Fairfield, Gettysburg, Littlestown, or New Oxford high schools who will be studying carpentry, masonry, drafting, plumbing, electrical and/or heating, ventilation, or air conditioning are eligible. One scholarship per school district will be awarded. To find out more or to apply, visit www.adamscountybuilders.com.

Student Resources 

Adams County Technical Institute
717-334-6254, opt. 8, ext. 4320
www.actp.info

Builders Association of Adams County
717-337-5144
www.adamscountybuilders.com

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