Reminder Assistant Editor
HAMPDEN Eighty-eight Minnechaug Regional High School students participated in the River East School-to-Career program this school year, but only one student/mentor team was honored at the Business & Education Partnership Breakfast that took place on Thursday.
Haley Brill, a Hampden resident and a senior at Minnechaug, and her mentor, Dr. Penny Peck of the Hampden Veterinary Clinic, were the outstanding student/mentor team honored.
Paula Talmadge, a career facilitator at Minnechaug and president of River East School-to-Career Inc., said the Hampden Veterinary Clinic has welcomed students into its office for years and that Peck offered Brill a variety of educational tasks. It was at the clinic, Talmadge said, that Brill learned a lot about veterinary science and herself.
"I've been obsessed with animals my entire life," Brill stated. "I've always cared for others more than myself. This internship decision came out of the blue but it's one of the best decisions I've ever made."
She said her work at the clinic was demanding and at times a little frightening, but she thanked Peck for scaring her. "It made me grow up and gain confidence," she said.
Brill will be attending Mt. Ida College in the fall for veterinary science.
Peck told those in attendance at the breakfast that a lot of students have gone through the clinic for the School-to-Career program some went on to become nurses, veterinarians and one is an Army medic.
"This is a great opportunity to gain new employees," Peck said, referring to the four former interns who have worked at the clinic.
Five other student/mentor teams were honored at the breakfast from Belchertown High School, Ludlow High School, Monson High School, Palmer High School and Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School. Ludlow joined the School-to-Career program this school year.
Dr. Gerald Paist, superintendent-director of Pathfinder Regional, welcomed student, mentors, parents and local dignitaries including Rep. Angelo Puppolo and Elizabeth Cardona from the Governor's office by stating that the River East program is "a wonderful development that's taking place in the community."
"This area has an enviable reputation for the kind of thing we're doing today," Paist said.
The keynote speaker was Charles Cavagnaro III, MD, president and CEO of Wing Memorial Hospital. "Wing benefits from the students [who intern there], which benefits the community," he stated.
In his speech, Cavagnaro said it was imperative for people to choose any career they had a passion for and that the early exposure of students to career training is important.
"It's OK if students don't have a career path by high school or even college we're always learning," he said.
The River East School-to-Career program, which places high school students in the business environment to gains skills through part-time jobs and internships, is like that first penguin diving into the frigid water to catch its meal, according to Talmadge.
"We're helping these students dive into the frigid water of adulthood," she concluded. "We're providing them with the knowledge, skills, experience and confidence to make their own career decisions."