Four of the first students to go through Surry County Schools’ Career Academy joined the workforce Thursday in a signing ceremony at the Holiday Inn in Mount Airy.
The ceremony, modeled after similar events where graduating students are signed up by colleges for sports, was designed to mark the momentous event of the students moving into the workforce with the training and skills needed to land them a real job.
The graduating seniors are four of the 12 students who participated in the first year of the Career Academy program, according to Crystal Folger-Hawks, career coach for Surry County Schools and Surry Community College.
“Four of the others are returning to the program next year,” said Folger-Hawks, “and the other four are going on to college.”
The 12 students have been participating in paid internships with local businesses since January as part of a program funded by a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.
“We submitted this grant a couple of times. We got rejected,” said Dr. Travis Reeves, county superintendent. “It made us stronger.”
The $330,000 grant funds the program for three years, paying the salary of Folger-Hawks, who administers the program, as well as providing a stipend and transportation funds to the participating students, according to Reeves.
Reeves thanked the businesses participating in the program, saying, “You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe in these young people. Thank you for stepping up and taking a chance on us and these students. I know you did your homework. I know you consulted your attorneys. I look at you as the pioneers. Your friends and neighbors have thought of internships and apprenticeships. But you did it.”
Reeves said the program was expanding from 12 students to 20 for the upcoming school year, and then going to 30 in the third year, and said he hoped the signing ceremony would require the additional space of the Shelton-Badgett Center at SCC next year.
“The gym,” came a voice from the crowd, anticipating even more exponential growth.
Reeves described the role of Folger-Hawks as that of a matchmaker. After meeting with representatives of local businesses and convincing them to participate in the plan, she helped fit the right student to the right job.
Folger-Hawks described some of what went into that matchmaking.
“Zeke was a Surry Early College student working toward a career in CNC (computer numeric controlled) machining, so I put him at Johnson Granite because they have some CNC machines,” said Folger-Hawks. “He had already learned computer programming and drafting. He was originally interested in cutting granite, but Johnson Granite wanted him to see how the whole thing works. He really enjoyed that.”
Zeke’s new employer, Johnson Granite CEO Brian Johnson, is well aware that Zeke’s dream job is riding bulls on the Professional Bull Riders circuit, and that his job at Johnson’s company is a well-thought-out backup plan.
“Don’t hurt your hands,” said Johnson, acknowledging that bull riders can get pretty busted up. “But you need your hands.”
Zeke has been working at Johnson Granite since January in the Computer-Aided Drawing Department, according to marketing director Jennifer Slate.
Yesenia Lara was a Surry Central student taking college classes in graphic design at Surry Community College, said Folger-Hawks, who thought the product development department at Nester Hosiery would be a good fit.
“It was definitely new to her,” said Folger-Hawks. She had never been around textiles before. But she’s fallen in love with the development process, what goes into it, the whole process.
“Yesenia made a presentation to Rotary,” said Reeves. “When she started talking about ‘lean manufacturing’ and ‘soft skills’, they sat up and listened. It’s all about language and vocabulary, and she can speak with the adults in the room.”
Thursday’s signing ceremony was a bit late in the case of Noah Reece, according to Folger-Hawks. “He did so well that after the first month, Leonard Buildings & Truck Accessories offered him a job in their logistics department.
“He had taken carpentry classes in high school and has already shown some leadership in his department,” said Folger-Hawks. “He made some changes.”
“He’s in the top five interviews I’ve ever done,” said Curtis Taylor, CEO of Surry Communications, as he signed his new employee Ray Mendez.
“Ray was a kid taking business classes in high school with no particular career path in mind,” said Folger-Hawks. “He wanted a good, stable job and to be successful at it. He’s courteous and has good people skills.”
Reeves announced earlier in the day Thursday, at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in front of Ray’s new boss, that Ray had a side business repairing electronics.
“He fixed my wife’s broken iPhone screen,” said Reeves.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.