Recruits signed papers and donned celebratory baseball caps, surrounded by proud sponsors and parents. Cameras flashed. Supporters erupted in cheers and applause.
At the A.K. Smith Career Center in Michigan City Friday morning, high school seniors from the La Porte County Career and Technical Education Program committed to jobs and trades in their local communities with great fanfare.
“This event allows us to thank our employers as well as recognize students, similarly to a high school athlete who is committing to a college athletic scholarship,” said Audra Peterson, Director of La Porte County Career and Technical Education. “These students are closing the skills gaps in their selected fields of study, and that is just as important as a college education.”
Peterson had tears in her eyes as she read out honorees’ names.
“For me, personally, this is why I do what I do,” she said. “[Students] know this is their future and they’re passionate about it, and that drives my passion.”
Thanks to partnerships between the school district, local businesses, and trade unions, students honored at today’s event have the opportunity to kickstart careers right after graduation.
“These kids are so awesome,” said Jerra Barnes, Professional School Counselor at the A.K. Smith Career Center. “They’re so focused.”
Roland Hunter, a representative from the electricians apprenticeship program at IBEW Local 531, appreciates the close relationships formed with students over the course of the two-year program. He knows graduates have the skills and the drive necessary to do well with his union.
To Hunter, the signings at today’s event reflect the students’ hard work as well as his colleagues’.
“It kind of proves that we’ve done our job as far as our industry, showing that we are a great occupation, we are a great industry, and we are a great career,” he said.
Barbara Eason-Watkins, Superintendent of Michigan City Area Schools, credits Hunter as one of the program’s earliest and strongest advocates. She started her tenure in July 2010 with a 90-day community listening tour, where momentum for the effort began.
“One of the things I heard was the importance of strengthening the ties between our school system and the business community,” Eason-Watkins said.
Now, almost 10 years later, she is proud to be on-hand to witness the growth they’ve achieved.
“It’s really exciting today to see the fruits of the labors of our children, our students, and our teachers who have worked closely with these business leaders,” she said.
Future welders, carpenters, electricians, chefs, cosmetologists, automotive mechanics and military professionals will continue to build skills through jobs and apprenticeships with the Indiana Kentucky Ohio Carpenters Union, Iron Workers Local 395, Local 172 Plumber and Pipefitter Union, Diedrich Drill, IBEW Local 531, Bartlett’s Fish Camp, Integrative Flavors, Platinum Design Barber and Hair, Hair Fitness Salon, Discount Tire of Michigan City, Pyramid Equipment, Jiffy Lube, Big Ford/Lincoln, the Army National Guard, the Air Force ROTC, the Army Reserves, and the United States Navy and Marine Corps.