Career day is all in a day’s work
Career Day sounded easy enough when my boss told me she volunteered me to speak – but I think there was a reason she volunteered me, and didn’t do it herself.
This was my second time speaking to school children, but this time was different. I had to talk to 6th graders at Gardnerville Elementary School – three classes for 40 minutes each.
A daunting task, but I felt I was up to it.
School teachers have my newfound respect after standing up in front of those gape-mouthed kids, who were staring blankly at me. I was covered in sweat by the end of the first class.
Thank goodness, I had some help from counselor Marty Skaggs. He organized the career day and agreed to do probably the strangest thing that happened in that school just so I could keep the kids interested. He dressed up like a mountain man and kidnapped a student out of the class – so I could stop telling that boring story of why I ended up in the newspaper business and what qualities are important in a reporter. The rest of the students would have to write a news story.
“One of the expectations is if you come into an elementary school and expect to lecture the kids, after five minutes, they will all tune out. All the presenters bring things they can look at or touch, like the computer designer who had kids with his equipment designing stuff on the computer, so the expectation was to have an activity that involves them,” Skaggs said. “The kinds of thing where the kidnapper comes in – whatever looks like a good idea – I’ll try.”
Skaggs picked a student ahead of time and asked he or she minded being the “victim.”
None of the students seemed scared. In fact, almost everyone of them knew as soon as the “mountain man” walked in and said, “Nobody move, I need a hostage,” that it was their beloved counselor, Mr. Skaggs.
“It may not have come as a surprise. The 6th graders overwhelmed me at recess. They all knew I was the one and I had dozens of 6th graders kid me and tell me I’m going to jail. I don’t think I fooled any of them,” Skaggs said.
After Skaggs stole a student, I told the class to get out a piece of paper and write a story about the kidnapping using the facts we knew about the kidnapping from the police officer (me) and the witness (the teacher). We talked about the importance of getting the facts right, not making up facts (which some of the kids had a problem with) and spelling names correctly.
Other participants in career day also brought in interesting items to keep the kids’ interest.
“We had two police officers, a couple of firefighters who brought a truck. We had an F-18 fighter pilot. The fighter pilot brought in a helmet and oxygen mask and dressed up a student in that. We had a hairdresser come in and actually cut kids’ hair. We got the approval of the kids and the permission of their parents before we did that,” Skaggs said.
A veterinarian, a physical therapist, a fishery biologist and a wildlife biologist also participated.
Skaggs said each elementary school has a career day in alternate years. The schools have to trade off so the supply of career day participants isn’t exhausted.
This year, there were 26 presenters in 20 classrooms presenting to students from kindergarten to 6th grade.
Although Skaggs said the students are not expected to know exactly what they want to do when they grow up, they should use this opportunity to think about different careers.
“We want to expose the students to a variety of types of work and prompt them to think about interests and talents and where they might want to go with their life,” Skaggs said.
Meredith Swanson-Jessup was one of the 6th grade teachers whose class I addressed. She said the experience was well worth the kids’ time.
“They really love it. I think it broadens their perspectives. They were interested to learn people get paid for writing and they thought that was pretty cool. It just exposes them to more opportunities,” Swanson-Jessup said.
She said the most interesting thing that happened during career day was a woman who worked as a retail store employee. She told students her life was an example of what not to do.
She told about how she dropped out of high school when she became pregnant and now has to live in subsidized housing to make ends meet.
“I had some that said, ‘I definitely wanted to get a college education,’ after hearing her speak. She said, ‘You don’t want to do what I did.’ So that was a good lesson. I didn’t expect it, but it was a good example for my kids. That was the first time that happened,” Swanson-Jessup said.
Teacher Vanita Rix said writing kidnapping news stories tied into the writing units the students have been doing.
“We’d been doing a crime unit and doing mystery stories, so it all tied in. They’ve really been focusing a lot on writing with a lot of detail, so it was great when you said that about using the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how.’ I’m glad I’m not the only one telling them they need that,” Rix said.
She said most of the students loved the wildlife biology presentation because of visual aids.
“He brought a stuffed owl and he had a neat slide show. He brought legs and wings of the birds. A lot really enjoyed his slides of owls and bears. Then all the kids had personal stories, so it really sparked their interest,” she said.
Before career day, the students had to think of questions to ask the presenters, Rix said.
“We talked about a lot of questions we could ask and about what they would like to do and some of the employability competencies. I asked them to think about what are they good at and see if these careers are good for them,” Rix said.