Teens build interests in careers at center

Only one place in Grand Junction houses a flower shop, a restaurant, a day care facility and a busy construction site in the same building.

The Career Center at 2935 North Ave. offers high school students a chance to explore a career for two hours every weekday for a year and earn three credits toward graduation.

Programs allow students to take orders and make floral arrangements at the center’s flower shop, build dog houses and sheds in the construction technology program, or repair computers. They can serve patrons at the on-campus Coyote Cafe, take care of pre-school children, learn landscaping techniques or learn audio-visual techniques. There also is a cosmetology program available through MJM Institute of Cosmetology.

Cheyenne Carson, a 16-year-old Palisade High School student, has participated in the floriculture program for more than a year. The Central vice principal suggested the program because she was skipping class.

“I used to ditch class all the time and I come here every day,” she said. “It’s more enjoyable than regular class and it builds self-esteem because you get to make stuff, not just watch other people make stuff.”

Ky Nickell, 16, and Tyler Ford, 15, built a shed Monday in the construction technology room. The program usually culminates in students building a house, a 10-year tradition.

But last year’s house is still on the market and Career Center Principal Dean Blair said the center will forgo a house-building project this year because of the real estate market.

Nickell said the construction program helps teach teens at least partially “how to put food on the table.” The Grand Junction High School student has learned how to use “basic construction tools” and apply building methods.

Ford said he began coming to the Career Center last year because he was failing classes at Palisade High School. He’s happy with the program and what it offers students who struggle to get the 25 credits needed to graduate in District 51.

“You get more credits here than at regular school,” he said.

In the audio-video classroom down the hall, Michael Frick’s students worked on placing an old-fashioned scene behind a picture of themselves taken with a green screen backdrop. Frick’s students also learn how to take pictures and video, edit film and make commercials and videos.

Jo-el Little, a 15-year-old Central student, had earned most of her high school credits during her freshman year before deciding to come to the Career Center in her sophomore year. She chose the audio-visual communications program because she wants to minor in photography — and minor in nanotechnology and major in law — at Arizona State University. She said there is more interaction in the class because the teacher only has 10 to 15 students to keep track of, and she likes going outside the center for assignments.

“With this class, you’re a bit more independent,” she said.

Blair said the program not only shows students how to do business, it allows them to be in business. Each program is geared toward actually making money, from selling flowers to selling sheds to selling lunches.

The 337 students at the Career Center (the student population is split into three sessions each day) are all labeled “at-risk” by their school districts. Because the center emphasizes respect and work ethic, Blair said he rarely has a problem with students misbehaving.

What he does have is a building full of future members of the work force.

“The goal is to get them prepared for work and post-secondary education,” he said.

Counselors with the School to Work Alliance Program are available. Counselors work with students ages 16 to 25 who are ready to leave high school find work. The program’s goal is to coach students on interview and resume skills and help them get and keep jobs after leaving the Career Center.

Counselor Sue Nielsen said that’s gotten a bit harder, but not impossible, with the tough economy.

“It’s harder to place them in jobs, but we’ve got more kids,” she said, attributing the increase to students finding it harder to get a job on their own without extra training and assistance.


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