BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
DRESDEN (March 17) – Middle schoolers from Dresden, 8th graders from Greenfield, Martin and Sharon and Westview’s students from The View got a peek into their potential futures this week as Dresden Middle School hosted a Career Day. The DMS gym was the site of the “meet and greet” with representatives from area colleges and universities, small businesses, and high school opportunities for exploring career options all ready to chat with the more than 600 students who arrived by the busload throughout the day.
Jamie Rickman, the event organizer, started the informational fair eight years ago. Last year, Career and Technical Education Director Lindsey Parham asked if the school counselor would be open to expanding the impact. Rickman agreed and began reaching out to increase the number of booths. On Wednesday, as she surveyed students holding tightly to the blue maps and orange interview sheets she had provided interacting with 28 educational and business entities, she said she was pleased.
“It’s exciting,” she noted. “This year we have a photographer. We have a publisher. We have people that have never been.”
Technologists and educators from Weakley County Schools, business consultants, police and highway patrol officers, a speech language pathologist, bank and financial institution representatives and a team from Weakley County Municipal Electric System were among the individuals who offered students insights into career options in the area. Educational representatives included recruiters from Bethel University, University of Tennessee at Martin, Tennessee College of Applied Technology at McKenzie, Dyersburg State and Jackson State. Schools within those institutions such as early education and agricultural were also present.
Since Dresden Middle students begin coming to the annual event in fifth grade, Rickman intentionally rotates the business leaders she invites from year to year to offer a sense of the scope of opportunities in Weakley County. She said she is appreciative of the support from local businesses and their acknowledgement of the schools as a strong component of workforce development. She tries to cater to their needs, even as they support the schools.
“With our community, they are so good but you never know who is going to have the time to come on any particular day,” she said of the logistics required to fill the gym. “Because when you are running a small business or you are a contractor or whatever you are at the mercy of your customers and clients. We understand that.”
Watching the several hundred students who visited from other schools, Rickman could easily dream of expanding the offerings.
“My goal is for our younger kids to get started thinking about jobs – not necessarily a career for their whole life – but just get them thinking about what are some jobs out there,” she explained. “I want them to start learning: What is a four-year-university? What is a community college? What is a college of applied technology?”
“For our older kids, our 7th and 8th graders, I’m hoping to help them make good decisions when it comes to their high school planning. That would be the main goal for them. For them to say, not necessarily ‘I’m going to do this specific thing for the rest of my life’ but ‘I find these things interesting, and they all fall under the agriculture umbrella or human services. Just so they are in the right spot when they move on to high school.’”
Scheduling the event includes considering age groups’ attention spans. She allotted 30 minutes for younger students to discover who was present and hear from each table representative. Dresden 7th and 8th graders received 45 minutes with the hope they would engage with older students from Dresden High School who staffed tables highlighting the benefits of classes and clubs related to the arts, business, health sciences, human and social sciences and agriculture. For the groups who arrived from Sharon, Martin, and Greenfield, one hour of interaction was planned.
Rickman noted then that Gleason School was customizing a 6th through 12th grade Career Day for that Friday.
The response of teachers, administrators and students encouraged Rickman to envision an even larger event in the future.
“We could push the bleachers back. We could add more vendors,” she suggested. “There are probably some businesses that if they knew there were some 17-year-olds in here who are looking for jobs now they’d be interested.”