More than 230 students from Heritage Middle School got the opportunity to spend a day working at various businesses, agencies and government offices throughout the community. They didn’t earn paychecks for their efforts, but they got some on-the-job training in different aspects of businesses and industry in the community.
Marie Richardson is an eighth-grade English teacher and has coordinated the Job Shadowing program through Junior Achievement since it was started eight years ago.
“We had 15 companies this year, and I’ve heard some wonderful responses from business people and parents in the community,” Richardson said. “Students were very positive when they came back. They were very excited. Some had stories, and others showed freebies they got from the employers. It was a wonderful hands-on experience for our students, and it always is.”
Richardson said one constant she has observed each year is how enthusiastic the students are before and after the experience. “It has been like this the last eight years. The kids are excited before they leave and when they come back it’s amazing what they tell you,” she said. “They are able to see how important the skills we teach in school are in the workplace. That’s one reason I’m an advocate for the program. It’s a hands-on experience, and it shows them how important writing, reading and math is. I really love the program.”
Richardson said the 230 students were placed in work sites. Out of the total number, 150 students found placements themselves. Before they were placed, each student had to fill out an application to determine what their interests are. “We use that to place them in the businesses,” she said.
Michael Wigdor, 14, said the application asked the student to give their top choices as far as what they were interested in. “They have different groups of occupations and from those you pick three you would want to go visit,” he said.
Richardson said this is the largest group they’ve had in eight years. “There’s more interest in the program. We allow each student to go and don’t limit it to just “A” and “B” students,” she said. “We constantly reinforce the program through teachers on the eighth grade hallway talking about it. We’re constantly reminding them of the program and what they need to do.”
Wigdor went with a group that toured AIS Seal in Rockford. “I actually went through the process of how a seal is made and what the seal actually does, and I got to build one and help fill an order,” he said. “I learned a lot. I want to be an engineer and that’s someplace I might look into one day.”
Nicholas Barr, 13, went to the Blount County District Attorney’s Office. “I learned how the court system works,” he said. “We learned how they go through General Sessions Court and how they try the individuals.”
Shelby Farris and Caitlin White, both 13, went to West Side Salon for their workday because each of them wants to one day be a cosmetologist. They got to do one another’s hair but also saw that the job entails labor like sweeping, folding towels and cleaning out bottles used to mix hair coloring. “It seems really fun. You become friends with your clients and that’s how I think it would be, like a little family in your shop instead of an uptight business place,” Farris said.
White said one of the challenges she saw for a cosmetologist is managing time so they can take care of each and every client on time. “It was a really fun atmosphere,” she said.
Amber Morton, 14, went to where her dad and mom works at Unique Shopping Network. “I learned how a satellite truck works and all the things they had to do to get ready for a show and how the camera and their systems work,” she said. “I want to learn how all systems work and become a producer and help with a show. It was awesome.”
Samantha Solomon, 13, toured ReMax Real Estate. “I enjoyed it. We learned there’s a lot that goes into selling a house. Realtors don’t get paid until they sell the house, and they spend as much time with paperwork as they do looking at houses with clients,” she said. “It’s a very difficult profession.”
Solomon said realtors also have to have great interpersonal skills, and they have to be patient. “Plus, everywhere they go, they have to bring their computer and phone, even on vacation,” she said.
Chris Qualls, 14, toured the Blount Highway Department. “I learned pretty much all they do. When water gets on the side of the road, they fix that,” he said. “They also do all the snow plowing and salting on the roads.”
Qualls said he might want to work at the Highway Department to earn money while going through college. “It was real fun. I really enjoyed it.”
Anna Haynes, 13, went to Wal-Mart and worked in the Cosmetics Department stocking merchandise. She learned what goes into the job application process and how much an associate is paid annually. “They said if you are doing a good job, you get a raise in 30 days, and it keeps going like that if you do a good job,” she said. “It sounds like fun.”
Madison Bull, 13, went to Mary Blount Elementary School with her friend Autumn Johnson and helped Autumn’s mom, Crystal Johnson, a second grade teacher. “I want to be a teacher for second or third grade. We worked with students and helped grade papers and helped with hallway procedures and stuff like that. I had a very fun time and learned that it is definitely something I want to do,” she said. “I learned you have to be very patient with students. I don’t really have patience but, hopefully, I’ll develop patience.”
Marie Richardson said the program could always use more businesses willing to host students each February. The program is done around Feb. 2, Groundhog’s Day.
“We’re always looking for more businesses, and we also like to have a variety of businesses. Last year we had two engineering firms to agree to participate so we’re always out there trying to find different kinds of businesses,” she said.
Richardson said the program has continued to grow each year. “I absolutely think it is a joy to see so many kids being able to participate in a hands-on experience in the community,” she said. “I really don’t know of anything else like this in a school.”