Putting the Future Forward: York Middle School students explore opportunities, connect with community at annual career fair

Putting the Future Forward: York Middle School students explore opportunities, connect with community at annual career fair

By Tyler Dahlgren

Momentum isn’t an issue at York Middle School, where students sprint rather than crawl through the finish line and into the balmy bliss of a well-earned summer break.

The school opened its doors for the annual YMS Career Fair last Friday afternoon, bringing in more than 30 presenters from local businesses and a variety of industries. The fair came on the heels of the school’s Main Thing Day, which was held earlier that morning.

“Our Main Thing Day was developed to teach our students some of the main things they should know,” said principal Kenny Loosvelt. “There were Cornerstone Bank employees here teaching our seventh-grade students how to tie a tie. One of our eighth-grade teachers taught the kids how to change a tire. The sixth-graders learned about money and finances. Those necessary things you’ll need to know in life that we just don’t always have time to teach in school.”

York Middle School’s Main Thing Day is always an eye-opening experience for students. They’re exposed to new things and learn a lot in a short amount of time, and it’s not every day you see Mr. (Chad) Mattox using a car jack.

“In Mrs. (Kelly) Fike’s room we learned what a W-2 and a W-4 was,” said eighth-grader Rosie Kennedy. “I had no idea what those were for, so that was pretty interesting.”

In the past, sixth-graders have learned how to count change. This year, they were taught how to write thank-you letters. Little things that, in the end, can take a person a long ways.

“We throw away the textbooks for a day, so to speak,” Loosvelt said. “We’re not worried about the curriculums of all the different courses. We’re very proud of what we’ve done there, but today is a day to teach all the stuff that everybody says, ‘Well the kids should know how to do that.’ And it’s a lot of fun.”

Loosvelt’s been in his role at YMS for nine years now, long enough to know that if he opens the door even a crack the community is going to rush in. When reaching out to presenters, he hardly ever hears no. The email reminder he sends out in March is always met with a wave of enthusiastic confirmations, and the presenters show up for the Career Fair with that same kind of energy. They give presentations to four groups of students, each round lasting about 25 minutes.

“This community, it loves the school, it supports the school, and it’s proud of the school,” Loosvelt said. “And so it doesn’t take much for me to fill up the presenters. As a matter of fact, we have more presenters than we have teachers who can watch over classrooms.”

Because of that, Loosvelt routinely has to find seven or eight adults from the community to come in and help. That’s always an easy task, too. 

“The community of York is fantastic for supporting our public schools and YMS, York Elementary and York High School,” Loosvelt continued. “We have so much support here in the school. We’re really blessed.”

The majority of presenters turn their sessions into hands-on learning opportunities for the students. Hop from classroom to classroom, and you’re bound to see some pretty neat stuff.

“One of the sessions that surprised me was the nursing station,” said eighth-grader Birkley Gray, who sees herself possibly working with kids in some capacity one day. “I never thought I would be interested in that career path, but hearing someone who actually does that every day tell us everything about it was really interesting. It could be a good opportunity.”

Students grow more comfortable and confident in attending the career fair each year. The first one can be quite daunting, but by the third one you’re just taking in as much information as you possibly can.

“I feel like in sixth grade I just went to ones that maybe sounded cool,” said Kennedy. “But then in eighth grade I went to ones that actually might be a career option for me.”

Eighth-grader Bryce Colle went into the day thinking he might one day carve out a career in masonry. He still felt that way by the time that we talked on the following Wednesday, but another line of work had peaked his interest at the career fair. 

“I never thought I would like to do plumbing, but I went to that station and it was very cool getting to work with tools and putting pipes together,” Colle said. “It’s really a fun day.”

Career fairs are a staple at every high school across the country, but you don’t necessarily see them held at middle schools very often. YMS has been doing this for at least a dozen years now, a testament to its forward-thinking district-wide culture.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on in the middle school is serving as that gap between elementary school and the high school,” Loosvelt said. “Let's start kids getting to think about, you're young men and young women now. You're getting to teenage years where as you get to a freshman in high school what are some things that you're interested in? And what were some things you might want to do as you get older? Because in four short years they're going to be done with high school. So that's what I think the whole goal of that day is, just to try to get kids experienced, trying to let them see many different avenues and options for the life that they're going to try to build for themselves.”

And while the Career Fair serves as an exclamation point at the end of another excellent year at what Loosvelt calls “the best middle school in the state”, it’s not quite the grand finale.

That’ll come next week, when YMS holds its 49th annual Almost Anything Goes Day, where they’ll crown both the Spirit Award winners and the AAGD family champion. The latter is an honor held in the highest regard by anyone and everyone who’s ever walked the YMS halls.

“The Career Fair is fantastic, and then we follow up with the AAGD,” Loosvelt said. “It’s a great way to round up the school year, and those two events are definitely like the cherry on top.”

For students, the career fair isn’t just a slingshot into summer break.

It’s a slingshot into the future, a boost from a school and a community that’ll always have their back.