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The Explorers: Jeffco High School Students Explore Future Career Options Now

The Explorers: Jeffco High School Students Explore Future Career Options Now
Posted on 05/08/2019
Arvada High School Career Explore Student Julian Dudzik maneuvers a podium as part of his after-school job as a Banquet Houseman at the Denver West Marriott.Celebrating new milestones is one of the best things about life. At Wheat Ridge High School, the milestone being celebrated was tied to the future of Career Explore (CE) students. It was opening day for Wheat Ridge High School's new Certified Nursing Assistant Lab. The lab is a way for CE students to identify and explore this career pathway, obtain training, and even get a certification as a nursing assistant.

“We know that we can take these students and shape them and create them into a pathway that is sustainable, that will then help them build a career moving forward,” explained Jeffco Career Links Specialist Jennifer Marquez.

It goes way beyond lab work. After their classes at Wheat Ridge are over, students earn work-based learning experience at Wheatridge Manor where they interact with residents and help with their daily care.

“Hearing their stories, and what they’re learning over there, it’s just been a really cool experience for a lot of them,” said Career Explore Learning Coordinator Jane Johnson.

And it’s not just nursing; there are opportunities in automotive, construction, hospitality, and other fields, using a successful model that blends class learning with a mix of volunteer work, paid internships and even employment.

For many CE students, the theme is familiar: for one reason or another, they've gotten off-track academically, or just lost interest in school. Some cite their dislike for classroom routine, others the stress of homework. Still others felt they were bored or running in neutral, just biding their time until graduation day.

“I was also freaked-out about what I was going to do after high school because I had no clue,” said Arvada High School student Julian Dudzik.

With the help of CE, students like Dudzik can find their way.

“I heard about this from a couple of people [and I said,] ‘You know what, maybe this is something I can do,’” explained Dakota Ridge High School student Erik Zech.

For many students, it not only gets them back on track but helps them look ahead, as well.

“This is kind of like my first stepping stone into what I want to become later in the future,” said Golden High School student Adrian Marquez.

In each pathway, students get to apply those 21st-century learning skills that are so key to Jeffco's learning-centered vision. Everything from self-direction to critical thinking, to being agile and adaptable.

“I’m a Banquet Houseman [at the Denver West Marriott]. So, if somebody wants a banquet room done, I will get the plans for it, and I'll build it up for them. It's a little bit hectic though,” explained Dudzik.

“I’m a spa receptionist at the Hilton Denver Inverness. For me, I kind of acquired a little bit of everything,” added Dakota Ridge High School student Caitlin Finger.

They also pick up a few extra benefits along the way.

“I’ve made a bunch of friends in the program. People I’d never thought I’d talk to,” said Finger.

“We always have a bunch of laughs, and it’s just really fun,” added Adrian Marquez.

The CE program wouldn’t happen without partnerships with many businesses in and around Jeffco. The Arvada Chamber is a big supporter because of how CE is helping develop a much-needed pipeline of young workers.

“We’re really working to help these kids understand there is a bright future for them,” explained Arvada Chamber of Commerce President Kami Welch.

“I just have extreme gratitude. Businesses coming together, watching the students feel successful and good about what they’re doing,” said Jennifer Marquez.

A recent career pop-up tour was more evidence of this alliance, where over 100 employers shared their time and expertise with Arvada area high school students, offering internships and even jobs.

“Listening to our employer community, they want a pool of candidates that know what they want to do and have the skills they need to be successful,” said Welch.

Put it all together, and Career Explore gives students a much-appreciated fresh start.

“Being in this program opened up this field for me, which helped me see the path I want to take later in the future,” said Adrian Marquez.

“If you’re in a spot that you don’t think you’re going to be able to graduate, I strongly suggest that you join this program,” said Golden High School student Jamie Schumann.

“Now I have a full-on career. It’s not just for credit recovery. It’s for your life,” added Dudzik.

Not only is it a positive for these students, but future CE students, and the community as a whole.

"I think it's awesome to see how it's going to help change a lot of lives for a lot of high school students,” said Johnson.

"We'll see better rates of livability and socio-economic conditions and better happiness for people who find those career pathways,” said Welch.

“I love this program so much!” added Adrian Marquez.

See the JPS-TV version of this story here or below.

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