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Hands-on career exploration via Future Focused Fridays

Employers team with school to show students the ropes


Senior Ainsley Carter slipped on a pair of safety goggles, a hardhat and a tool apron and paid close attention as Steven Ray led her and 15 classmates, step by step, through assembly and disassembly of construction scaffolding.

“Now let’s get into four teams and do this yourselves,” said Ray, an instructor at Grand Rapids Community College’s Leslie E. Tassell M-TEC program.

Working in one of a very few areas not already being used by college-age construction students, the Northview High groups connected cross and diagonal braces to create framing and installed wood plank decking and guardrails. They identified problems along the way, and Ray encouraged them to suggest solutions.

“Good,” he said, and pointed to another small space across the work area.. “Now take it apart and put it back together over there.”

And so went an hour of a Future Focused Friday, where 16 Northview students will be eligible to obtain eight different construction-related certifications while still in high school.

The hope is that those who complete the program in May may snag summer or even permanent jobs.

Tyevon Williams works on a scaffolding

‘Students are Getting Excited’

Future Focused Fridays is the brainchild of Brent Dickerson, principal of the high school’s East Campus, and Drew Klopcic, dean of students. The idea stemmed from a career development program that is planned to kick off this school year at the high school’s main campus.

“The thought was, what are some ways we can get kids hands-on learning experiences?” Klopcic said. “We’re really excited about where it’s going. Students are getting excited, and their parents are getting excited.”

Dickerson and Klopcic enlisted the help of Kent ISD’s Career Readiness Department, which connected the school with dozens of area employers willing to participate.

As a result, the entire East Campus student body — some 75 students in grades 9-12 — will either be visited by or spend time every Friday at area construction, skilled trades, IT, healthcare, and arts and manufacturing businesses; as well as work with visiting employers on resumes and interviewing.

Besides the 16 students at GRCC’s M-TEC, another 12 will work with illustration, ceramics, graphic design and photography professionals at the West Michigan Center for Arts & Technology (WMCAT). A $3,100 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs is making those visits possible, where the Northview students also will earn art credits.

East campus students Lizzy Grandon, left, and Madelyn Fankhauser, right, work on a poster titled ‘Multiple Pathways to a Successful Career’ with English teacher Jean Peck

“We’re trying to create small group settings so students can get more one-on-one attention and interaction,” Klopcic said. “Students who stay at school will actually get more variety than the students at M-TEC and WMCAT.”

Jenny Redes, human resources manager at Custom Profile, visited East Campus. She thinks it is important to get in front of students to show them all the career paths available to them at the Grand Rapids-based plastics manufacturer. They also invite students to take tours.

“I shared with them that I hire a lot of people into our production role, but they are able to grow into different roles based on their interests,” Redes said. “(For example), my production supervisors all started as operators and our design engineer started on the floor.”

The 300-employee company employs both degreed and non-degreed workers, Redes said, and for those who are desk-averse, positions are far from idle. “Even our engineers are on the floor a lot.”

Northview teacher Jack Retherford said ‘students are absolutely loving this’

Skills Cross Workplace and Classroom

Ainsley said she is drawn toward the administrative side of the construction business. But she wanted to take the M-TEC course because “I want to know how to do it all.

“My dad was a handyman, and I would always be next to him when he was doing something. It just seemed exciting to me.”

Senior Deron Jackson also wants to go into contracting. He has worked during the summers helping his aunt and uncle, who buy houses, fix them up and sell them.

Junior Javont Hackett works a landscaping job in the summers, and thinks a job in skilled trades is “more my fit” than an office or other setting.

Northview teacher Jack Retherford is seeing the M-TEC students engage in learning every Friday.

“It’s fabulous,” he said. “They got them doing hands-on work the first day. The students are absolutely loving this.”

Dickerson pointed out that students are learning far more than a trade.

“Teachers want the same behaviors as employers want from their employees: They want people to show up on time, put their cell phones down, work together and in diverse populations,” he said. “Really, we’re trying to take those concepts and put them all together, so students know they are working on skills that directly relate to their future success.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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