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John J. Wright students get exposure to career opportunities through new program

Free Lance-Star - 5/18/2023

May 18—In a classroom at the John J. Wright Center, teacher Travis Richardson and assistant principal Marlena Galimore talked with a small group of students about proper interview attire.

"You want to make sure you're presentable and your clothes are clean," Galimore said.

"But what if you're poor?" asked one of the students, who all attend Spotsylvania County Public Schools' alternative education program at the Wright Center.

Richardson said he has taken students shopping for suits at Walmart in the past and Galimore said she keeps a set of ties in her office.

"There are a lot of organizations in the county that will help you," Galimore said. "We've got you."

Wednesday was Career Day for the alternative education students and was the culminating event in a yearlong career exploration program established by math teacher Catherine Brown.

Brown wrote a proposal for a $1,200 grant from the Spotsylvania Education Foundation to start the program and was awarded the funding in September.

"The goal is for our students, in particular, to get ideas of careers, not jobs," Brown said. "It came up that I'd talk to them and ask, 'Do you have plans for after you graduate?' And they don't. They just want to graduate from high school, but they have had no opportunities to learn what options are available to them after high school."

The students in the alternative education program were referred there following disciplinary infractions or by the courts. Brown said she wants her students to know that any mistakes they may have made do not need to hold them back.

The grant has funded off-campus field trips for the students each quarter. They visited the Luck Stone plant in Spotsylvania and the Germanna Center for Advanced Technology, which offers credential programs, apprenticeship training and support services in high-demand career fields such as asphalt paving, heavy machinery, solar panel installation, welding, HVAC and construction management.

They visited Faded and Company, a barber shop and school owned by Spencer Antoine Carey. Carey, who is also an author and public speaker, obtained his barbering license while in prison and is committed to sharing his story in an effort to combat recidivism and break generational cycles of incarceration.

Brown said some of the students read Carey's book "For Whom Much is Given" and that they are able to relate to him because of his personal experience.

"He puts out there that he is accountable for his actions," Brown said. "That's something that our students are still processing."

After each field trip, the students and teachers have gone out for lunch at Kickback Jack's restaurant to give the students a chance to experience how having a job that makes good money will enable them to reward themselves.

"They've been a great partner," Brown said of the restaurant.

Also as part of the program this year, students heard a presentation about careers available in the Spotsylvania fire and emergency management departments.

"Our kids would be great at a job like that," Brown said. "They're fit and they're strong emotionally. When I think about some of the things they've gone through, I can see a lot of compassion in them."

At Wednesday's Career Day event, recruiters from the Army and Marine Corps visited to talk to the students about careers available in the armed forces.

They also had a chance to participate in mock interviews and practice filling out job applications, and they learned about career resources available through Spotsylvania County Public Schools.

Brown, who has worked for the division for seven years, said there are many resources within the county that she was not aware of before this year.

"We have so much to offer [the kids]," she said. "Everything we've done has opened their eyes to the idea that, 'I can have a job and make good money here. Nothing is holding me back.'"

Adele Uphaus: 540/735-1973



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