Indianola students attend career fair

John Taylor speaks to a group of eighth graders about his experiences as a teacher during a new career fair at Indianola Middle School on Feb. 1.

“When I grow up, I want to be …”

Even some adults struggle to finish that sentence. Or they know the answer after earning a degree or gaining work experience in the “wrong” field.

A new career fair at Indianola Middle School on Feb. 1 was an opportunity for eighth graders to explore a wide range of options early in life.

Tina Chaplin, eighth-grade counselor, organized the event. In the past, students would spend a day job-shadowing a parent, but that wasn’t always a tool for pinpointing professional interests.

 “It was more about the experience: what it’s like to be at work for a day, what it’s like to have coworkers,” Chaplin said. “But for the majority of kids, it wasn’t really relevant to them because they weren’t interested in doing that kind of career.”

There were other limitations, too. Tightened privacy laws meant some workspaces couldn’t be open to students. Some parents were unemployed or worked hours not conducive to kids’ schedules.

For the career fair, Chaplin brought in 15 different speakers representing an assortment of professions: From business to cosmetology, information technology to radio. A representative from the World Food Prize added the perspective of volunteerism.

Students in groups of eight to 12 rotated through a handful of the presentations, with each lasting about 25 minutes. The youths had filled out forms indicating which speakers they most wanted to hear, guaranteed to get at least two of their choices.

All the students also learned about Project Lead the Way, which promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

The result, said Chaplin, was “the best career day that we’ve had since I’ve been here.” She’s worked at the middle school for 21 years.

“You could hear a pin drop,” she said. “It was amazing.”

Speakers not only described their professions, but also how to attain them. For instance, would they require a certain college degree or other training? And which classes in high school would best prepare students?

It’s timely information for the eighth graders. This spring, each will complete a four-year plan of study for high school, as required by the Department of Education. They’ll also register for their first high school classes.

If it’s a daunting task, Brooke Wilbur doesn’t let on. The 14-year-old daughter of Jon and Dawn Wilbur was all smiles as she described how the career fair confirmed her dream of joining the Air Force.

“The feeling that I want to do something for my country,” she explained as her motivation.

Wilbur listened to presentations by a military representative, pilot and police officer. She plans to go into law after she serves in the Air Force, so all three gave her good insights.

“I’ll know more about each job and what I’m supposed to learn for it,” Wilbur said.

Jackson Overton, the son of Jennifer and Derek Overton, is still pondering his future career. He heard from speakers in education, sports science and professional athletics—and was pleasantly surprised.

“At first I wasn’t interested in education as much as the other two, but after listening to him, there’s a lot of different types of things you can do,” Overton said. “He started with science. Then he was a counselor and an assistant principal. He just loved working with kids.”

According to Overton, 14, several classmates shared his reaction to the fair, which may become an annual event.

“A lot of them had fun, I think, and are a lot more interested in different careers than I thought they’d be,” he said. “It was just a really good experience.”

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