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Career exploration goes virtual

While they couldn’t visit job sites in person, both Nicholas James and Bret Kendall said the recent Groundhog Shadow Day event, held online, opened their eyes to all that a network technician has to do when planning to set up a wireless access point.

“I learned that there is a lot more planning that goes into setting up a network in a building than just putting down some access points and running the cables to a server rack,” said Nicholas, a junior at West Michigan Aviation Academy and Kent Career Tech Center. “You have to plan for dead zones, thicker walls, along with other things. He also showed us the server room and what a server rack would look like from a troubleshooting standpoint.”

For Bret, a Forest Hills Northern High junior who also attends the Tech Center, the virtual program provided an opportunity to explore career options and connect with those who work in those fields. 

“I would 100% recommend the groundhog day job shadow,” Bret said. “I say this because I love how it puts you with someone who has experience in the field and enjoys their job, which makes this experience very powerful in my opinion.”

Exploring what type of projects she could do in the field of architecture was something Comstock Park senior Aria Sanford said she enjoyed about Groundhog Shadow Day (courtesy)

Best Attendance Ever

The Kent ISD Career Readiness department has been offering Groundhog Shadow Day for the past six years. The 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic. 

But students still need to be able to explore different career options, said Krista Harmon, Career Readiness consultant. 

“Their careers don’t stop just because of a pandemic,” Harmon said. “They still need to ask themselves questions to determine what might be the best (career) fit for them.”

The Career Readiness department had switched several of its programs to a virtual format with positive results. Students in grades 9-12 were able to explore career fields such as healthcare, construction, law enforcement, manufacturing, engineering, interior design, education, graphic design and hospitality.

The response to the virtual format was overwhelmingly positive, Harmon said, with interest coming from surrounding counties and as far as Hawaii.

“Montcalm County had heard about it and reached out to ask if they could promote it,” Harmon said. “It is really great that we are able to provide something to those rural areas that do not often have the resources.”

Harmon said because the department did not anticipate teachers signing up entire classes, it was difficult to estimate how many students participated. Of the 3,000 slots open about 1,700 were filled, with this year being the highest participation.

Another positive in offering the event virtually is that any student could participate.

“In the past, for the student to participate they had to have their own transportation,” Harmon said, adding that this year, students only needed a computer and Wi-Fi access.

And despite Feb. 5 being a snow day for many districts, the online event could still take place.

Larry Ridley, an instructor for the Tech Center’s Engineering and Architectural Design program, was one of several teachers who signed up his class to participate in six different sessions. The snow day meant Ridley was at school moderating as his 70 students participated from home.

“Through my program I usually set up in-person job shadows for the students, but because of the pandemic many of the companies I work with are currently not allowing students in,” Ridley said. “This was the perfect opportunity for students to have a job-shadowing experience and connect with professionals in the field.”

The opportunity to meet professionals was an aspect Thornapple Kellogg senior Jon VanderMeer said he enjoyed. 

“The one I attended, the presenter discussed how he got into conveyor belts, designing and building them,” said Jon, a student of Ridley’s. “He talked about how he went through a co-op (apprenticeship), which opened up another way for me to approach college.” 

Comstock Park senior Aria Sanfordm, who is studying architecture at the Tech Center, said Groundhog Shadow Day allowed her to explore the types of projects she could be doing in the field. 

“Something like this, whether virtual or in-person, still gives you an opportunity to explore and see just what might happen if you move forward in a certain career,” Aria said.

Harmon said the success of the virtual program has opened new possibilities for the Career Readiness department: the possibility of offering both virtual and in-person job shadow experiences.

“The virtual could be that first step for students looking at various options, with the in-person being an opportunity for students to explore more in-depth.”

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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