Students learn about future career options at LMHS on Tuesday April 2. Photo courtesy of Sarah Barrick.
It wasn’t a typical day at LMHS on Tuesday, April 10, and the buzz that surrounds any difference in the norm signaled the beginning of GEAR UP’s first College and Career Day.
GEAR UP is a federal grant that provides students from all walks of life with a chance to learn about opportunities to further their education beyond high school. Besides the College and Career Day, GEAR UP funds college visits for students, summer camp opportunities in various occupational fields, and much more. Tuesday’s focus was on testing and careers.
As part of the GEAR UP grant, all juniors must take the ACT test. The test is given free of charge, saving parents over $50. The test provides students a good baseline score for evaluating their college admission readiness. Sophomores and eighth graders were given the opportunity to take a practice test this year, preparing them to be more successful when they take the actual tests in their junior and senior years.
As three levels of students tested in one part of the building, the other three classes, seventh graders, freshmen, and seniors, split up into smaller groups to attend workshops.
For the seventh and ninth graders, the workshops focused on skills like leadership, teamwork, perseverance, grit, and creativity. Teachers planned activities and discussion points to get students thinking of the value of developing those skills not only for success in the classroom, but for success in the work world as well.
Freshman Kai Basham said, “It was well organized and each location gave lots of useful information.”
The workshops for the seniors focused on financial planning, resume building, job and scholarship applications, and a little reality check about the real world of work.
Counselor Mandi Foss noted that teachers Michelle Foss, Patty Rambo, and Kelly Morford stepped in to cover when one of the presenters was unable to attend. “I owe them a big thanks,” she said.
Michelle Foss and Rambo talked about student loans, and Morford helped with the Montana Career Information System program to help students take a realistic look at how their job aspirations and their desired lifestyles will mesh together. As an example, Mandi Foss explained that students needed to see whether being a vet tech, for instance, and supporting a family in a one-income home would be realistic.
Other seniors noted that the information was all very good, but that it was a little too late in the year for them to put it to good use.
“I thought it was very helpful. Learning stuff ahead of the game is very important for me, but it seemed to be a little late,” said Senior Brandy Murray.
In the afternoon, representatives from 33 local businesses filled the gym to meet with students and answer questions about their careers, about job openings in their fields, and even about summer job opportunities. Businesses included everything from the U.S. Forest Service and Flathead Electric to cosmetology and the medical field.
Mandi Foss contacted Libby businesses about participating in the fair and was overwhelmed with the positive responses she received. “In ten days, we had 33 businesses who committed to present,” she said. She was really excited for students to see how many different types of job opportunities are available in Libby.
Junior Cayman Lee said, “The career fair was useful and gave students a very good representation of what Libby has to offer.”
Science teacher Wally Winslow agreed. “It was an outstanding opportunity for students to talk to professionals in the community.” Winslow called the day “very beneficial,” saying he believes it was “an eye opener for most kids” and that it “got them thinking.”
Students had a questionnaire to fill out about at least six of the jobs. Some students found the paperwork distracting.
Mandi Foss said the papers were meant to start conversations. “We didn’t want students standing in the middle of the gym unsure of what to ask or how to approach the business representatives,” she said. “The form gave them a place to start, but it wasn’t meant to limit them by any means.”
Overall, most students agreed that the Career Fair was a positive experience.
“I liked seeing all of the different job options. I liked Ortho Rehab the most because that’s what i’m interested in,” said Junior Abbie Johnson. “There were lots of options, though.”
Junior Tyler Serna added, “The businesses did an amazing job and it was a cool experience that let me look into careers that I might be pursuing in the future.”
Classes attended the Career Fair in groups of two: seventh and eighth graders together, freshmen and sophomores, and juniors and seniors. While some groups were attending the Career Fair, others were working on team building activities, resume building, or finalizing registration for next year’s classes.
Other homeroom groups did activities that ranged from taking a walk together to competing in amoeba races or cloth track races. All the activities were designed to get students thinking about the most effective ways they can work together to achieve a common goal.
For both staff and students, the day was a break from the ordinary routine. Though some found the day a bit “chaotic,” Sophomore Tucker Masters said, “It was pretty cool. It’s nice to know our teachers care enough about the students to help them find a career.”
“It was cool how the businesses took time out of their day to help us young bucks prepare for the future,” said Senior Zack Carter.
Health Enhancement teacher Cindy Ostrem-Johnston said, “I was impressed by how many businesses donated their time. The students that participated gained valuable knowledge about different careers.”
Mandi Foss added, “I want to thank the school staff and administration for giving us a chance to have a career fair. I definitely want to thank all the businesses that gave up time, money and energy to help students, to support them and to show them what kinds of opportunities they have here in Libby.”
GEAR UP coordinator Deanna Malyevac said she believes the day was a success. It was great to see the community’s interaction with the schools.
“I’d like to give a big thanks to those participating. If you wanted to be a part, call us and we can put you on the list for next year,” she said. She also welcomes ideas from the students about other careers they would like to see represented in next year’s fair.
“We’ve gotten tons of great suggestions already,” said Mandi Foss. “We’re hoping to add even more vocational jobs such as contractors, electricians, and welders.”
Although Mandi Foss had contacted other businesses, several could not attend due to previous commitments. “Montana Machine has already committed for next year, along with Studio B and the Clerk of the District Court and Ace Hardware,” she said, “just to name a few.”
For the business representatives, it was also a learning experience.
Jeff Zwang, from the county attorney’s office, said he learned that he needs to have visuals to help attract students to his table. “Next year, we’re bringing stuff,” he said in an email to Mandi Foss. Zwang thinks carefully selected crime scene photos might help pique students’ interest in a law career.
“I’d like to thank the students for their participation, too,” said Mandi Foss. “The businesses were super impressed with their behavior, with their questions. Several of them emailed me to say how impressed they were with the students’ higher level questions. They were especially impressed with the middle school students who shook hands and looked us in the eye to introduce themselves before asking questions.”
Administrators thanked both their staff and the community for pulling together to make the first annual event successful. “The staff rallied around the day and made it a success. It was fun seeing teachers interact with students in a different environment,” said Principal Ruth Rogers, who even got in on some of the fun of teaching a few sessions.
“The students seemed to enjoy the different learning opportunities they had. I want to thank all the businesses that participated in the Career Fair. It was a highlight of the day. Libby students are fortunate to live in such a caring, involved community,” Rogers said.