BENNINGTON -- A group of 16 Mount Anthony Union High School sophomores have had the opportunity through a new year-long collaboration with Community College of Vermont to explore different careers available to them in Bennington.
Turns out, there's a lot more here than they ever knew.
"It's definitely opened my eyes up to a lot of new things in the community that I had no idea about," said Austin Metcalfe during a "Career Meet-up" Monday in which students spoke one-on-one with a number of business people from the area who were on hand to act as resources and guides to the students.
Monday's interaction with people from the local workforce was just one of the opportunities the students have had to talk with business leaders.
Earlier in the semester students split into groups and visited a dozen downtown businesses to speak with owners and employees about what each career offers and what it takes to get a job in each field.
"It was an opportunity for 10th graders to look at a range of careers that are available to them ... and to link that to the kinds of academics and skill sets that they'll need to be successful in those careers," said Jeannie Jenkins, coordinator of academic services at CCV.
In addition to exploring the Bennington job market to a degree most students had not previously done, the experience also illustrated what real-life experiences are often like, as opposed to the simple "go to college, get a job and work until retirement."
"When we talked with them afterwards about what they learned -- one, they were surprised with the diversity of kinds of businesses that are available in Bennington. Two, they were really impressed with the fact the path to where people ended up was not straight, there was a lot of detours and a lot of pieces, and that every single one of those opportunities along the way taught people something," Jenkins said.
Elizabeth Potter said the exposure has allowed her to eliminate a few fields as potential careers for her, although it has also introduced so many more that she still has "no idea" what she wants to do after college.
"It makes it so you definitely know what you don't want to do, but you get a lot more ideas of what you do want to do," she said.
While learning about careers is a large part of what the fall semester is geared toward, students in the program are also quick to add that they have learned about the "soft skills" employers look for, about the college admissions process and other skills that will help them after high school yet often go overlooked in traditional classrooms.
"You get to do things that you really have never done before. Like last week we did mock interviews that really taught us how to sit, or what to do with your hands and what to say or what not to say, and to look someone directly in the eyes," Kobe McFalene said as he stood comfortably exhibiting each of those qualities.
Toni Kuzawski said in addition to exploring different careers, the most important thing she has taken from the course so far is learning more about what she can look forward to and gaining the confidence that she will be prepared when college arrives. As somebody who gets nervous easily, Kuzawski said she took the course largely to ease her nerves about college. "I'm a person who will be very nervous for my first college class ... so us being able to do a CCV class and also (to learn) what college is about and how it's going to operate in a class and how teachers teach -- it's going to help me a lot going into college I think," Kuzawski said.
The program also includes weekend retreats to Pompanuck Farm in Cambridge, N.Y., during which students work on team-building, come up with career goals and discuss the resources that are available to help them obtain those goals.
Monday's "Meet-up" concluded the fall piece of the Sophomore Experience, but the program will pick back up in the spring semester when the students begin the Introduction to College Studies class at CCV. College Studies is intended to help prepare students for college by teaching things such as critical thinking, ways to reduce test anxiety, how to improve time management, and connecting students with resources such as financial aid and scholarships.
Sophomore Experience will conclude next summer with a week-long excursion to Pompanuck Farm to do more goal-setting followed by the opportunity to job shadow at a number of businesses in town.
Sophomore Experience was created through funding from a grant awarded to the Workforce Development Partnership of Bennington County from the Department of Labor and Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Jenkins said the grant will fund the program for two years, during which time it will be evaluated to determine if it can and should continue to be funded.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi