JA Inspire models career awareness to eighth-grade students

Connecting nearly 9,000 eight-grade students across CFISD’s 18 middle school with potential career opportunities and industry personnel was just one of the many benefits afforded to attendees at the Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas (JASET)’s annual job awareness fair, JA Inspire.

Held over three days (Feb. 5-7) at the Berry Center, JA Inspire is in its fifth year. Each day was filled with sessions, presentations, hands-on product displays and demonstrations with experts from more than 50 Houston-area businesses in a variety of industries.

To help streamline the process for students and better their experience, attendees selected one of four endorsement tracks (STEM, business and industry, public services and arts and humanities) beforehand.

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KPRC Channel 2 anchor Rachel McNeill, a 1992 Cypress Creek High School graduate, spoke to eighth graders to end the second day of the three-day JA Inspire, held Feb. 5-7 at the Berry Center.

“The kids are just so well-prepared,” said Rick Franke, JASET president. “They’re well-focused. They’re respectful to our speakers. And they engage, and that’s the most important aspect of this.”

Each day began with a welcome session for all students in the Berry Center arena, as they filled the seats with color-coded shirts. They were then divided into three groups, rotating between presentations in the conference center, a soft-skills demonstration in the arena and exhibitors in the second-flood concourse.

While exploring in the concourse, students could visit with company employees and industry experts in a variety of fields, ranging from law enforcement to banking, and engineering to electrical.

“People think banking is only banking,” said Brenda Oehlke, an assistant vice president for commercial lending at Plains Capital Bank who represented the Texas Bankers Association at JA Inspire. “We need IT people. We need security people. It’s endless.”

Speakers also closed each day. They included KPRC Channel 2 anchor Rachel McNeill, a Cypress Creek High School graduate, and Heritage Texas Properties realtor associate Lily Jang, a Langham Creek High School graduate.

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“We have so many kids who don’t have the exposure to what’s out there for them” said Dr. Linda Macias, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction and accountability. “(There are) so many resources for so they can truly be knowledgeable about what types of careers are out there, what types of courses they need to be looking at and taking in school, but also what type of skills – soft skills – they need to refine or acquire to be successful through an interview or through a job.”

Students were divided up by four endorsement tracks (STEM, business and industry, public services and arts and humanities) that they selected beforehand to receive a more specialized experience.

While exploring career stations on the concourse, students spoke with company employees and industry representatives to learn more about their businesses.

Speakers in different career fields closed each day. They included KPRC Channel 2 anchor Rachel McNeill, a Cypress Creek High School graduate, and Heritage Texas Properties realtor associate Lily Jang, a Langham Creek High School graduate.

“Our eighth-grade students are fortunate to be able to participate in an interactive experience that provides them with information on a variety of careers and local employers from the greater Houston area,” said Dr. Linda Macias, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction and accountability. “This will assist them in making informed decisions when selecting an endorsement and course selections for high school.”

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Campbell Middle School eighth-grade student Cameron Rice explores a virtual reality simulator during JA Inspire. As part of the three-day job awareness fair, students visited career stations, which included hands-on products to show what the career entails.

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HORIZONS program meets needs of gifted and talented students

Livestock Show and Sale an exclamation mark for FFA students

The program’s highlight came to a finish with a live premium auction Feb. 10, but the CFISD Livestock Show Association’s 24th annual Show and Sale is just part of what CFISD students and community members can experience through FFA and Agriculture Science education.

It’s still a topic that can open one’s eyes, said Corey Taylor, a Cypress Falls High School FFA adviser and Agriculture Science teacher, thanks in large part to Houston’s enormous urban footprint and the overall lack of exposure.

Sometimes, it’s just as simple as getting past that first question.

“We hear, ‘Does a student have to raise an animal to be a member of take the class?’” said Katie Dale, a Cypress Woods High School FFA adviser and Agriculture science teacher. “And we start off by saying you do not have to raise an animal to become involved.”

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The CFISD Livestock Show and Sale – like FFA – is way beyond animals in the show ring at the CFISD Exhibit Center during the Premium Sale during the show’s final day. Every aspect, which includes agriculture science certifications, showing livestock, agriculture mechanics and horticulture, can offer lifelong skills for students. The program can prepare them for careers and become confident in the decision-making process.

“Beyond this, it allows students to get a hands-on feeling for what it takes to become dedicated, responsible and invested in something that will make them grow as young people in both humble wins as well as defeat,” Taylor said. I like to tell my students involved in the program that ‘You either win or you learn.’ Either way, you aren’t losing.”

The three-day CFISD Livestock Show and Sale is the peak for most students involved in the program, as they are able to showcase their work to the CFISD community and business partners. Now in its 24th edition, the 2018 show and sale saw approximately 800 students combine for nearly 900 entries.

The first two days are the shows and judging to determine champions in 11 separate divisions (Broiler, Turkey, Ag Mechanics, Horticulture, Goat, Lamb, Steer, Heifer, Market Rabbits, Breeding Rabbits and Swine).

The final day brings the sales, with first the silent auction and freezer sale before the Premium Sale (live auction) ends the showcase event. A final amount for total sales generated is not yet available, but the Premium Sale unofficially raised nearly $340,000.

Students are expected to seek out buyers and donations, tying those marketing and social skills back to what the learn in the classroom. Sales, pledges and donations to show entries are used to help fund higher education or further a student’s experience in the program. The 2017 Volume Buyer Award went to Mike and Darlene Jarrar of Jarrar & Company, Inc., which contributed $93,600 to the nearly $800,000 in sale generated at last year’s event.

“You can see the passion in the students’ eyes and all their hard work surface, and it is a privilege to cheer for them on the side lines,” Dale said. “To watch my students in their big moment makes every late night and early morning worth it. I believe that FFA helps grow students into the best version of themselves. It teaches them responsibility, manners, sportsmanship, and financial responsibility. Watching a student transform into the best version of themselves through their livestock project and through everything else our chapter has to offer has been a major blessing and the best feeling in the world.”

Carlton Center prepares students for future success

The top of the school’s stationery states “Carlton Center…Opportunity is Here” and that’s what is available for students at the campus named for a former educator instrumental in CFISD’s development of a comprehensive program for students with disabilities.

The Carlton Center provides its students with two distinct programs:

  • LIFE Skills classes and programming for students primarily middle school age through 21 years old requiring a highly structured setting; and
  • four specialized vocational programs focusing on pre-vocational, training and social skills to promote independence and readiness for paid employment. The programs are for students in their later high school years, providing both campus- and community-based instruction.

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Cypress Falls High School senior Andrea Mendieta measures out ingredients during Commercial Foods Service at the Carlton Center, which provides vocational programs focusing on pre-vocational, training and social skills to promote independence and readiness for paid employment.

The campus currently serves 71 students, with attendance varying annually based on the recommendations from their home campuses. Of those, 37 students are in the vocational training programs, which include Commercial Foods Service, Business Media Production and VITAL (Vocational Independence and Training for Adult Living).

“In CFISD, we can meet the diverse needs of all of our learners,” said Leigh Ann Crank, an instructional specialist at the Carlton Center. “Carlton Center provides a specific pathway for that. For our students with disabilities, particularly those that are adults with disabilities, we can offer them specialized training to grow their independence within their preferred job field.”

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Jersey Village High School senior Lamon Hanna organizes place settings during VITAL (Vocational Independence and Training for Adult Living) at the Carlton Center. The program helps students develop skills for after graduation, which may include readiness for employment or independence in their home.

Vocational programs are for students who have completed all their course requirements for graduation and continue to need vocational training. Commercial Foods Service and Business Media Production serve as two-period block classes, while VITAL is a full-day program.

In the vocational training, students go out and work with community partners, using skills learned in the classroom and using them as they transition closer to independence. It could be job readiness skills for potential employment or simply becoming more independent in one’s home.

“It’s such a great feeling to see our students you’ve seen for so many years go through some of those classes and progress and have that paid job and a paycheck,” said Heather Browarek, Carlton Center vocational team leader. “It’s very rewarding. A lot of hard work, a lot of teachers, a lot of influential people have helped these students and it’s amazing to see the end product, which is a happy working young man or young lady.”

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Cypress Creek High School senior David Granados uses a jig saw to cut out an outline of Texas during Business Media Production at the Carlton Center, which provides vocational programs focusing on pre-vocational, training and social skills to promote independence and readiness for paid employment.

The center is named for Mrs. Dorothy Carlton, who was hired by CFISD in 1957 as the district’s first and only teacher for special education. Carlton helped shape the program, serving as supervisor and director of special education before retiring in 1977.

Originally dedicated in 1980 at the Cy-Fair Annex, the Carlton Center has been at its present home adjacent to Cypress Woods High School since 2006.

“I did a tour and just fell in love,” Browarek said. “I said the first year I feel like I hit the lottery.”