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Career Center hopes to increase partnerships with local businesses

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Ever since Debra Hunter joined the staff at Agawam High School (AHS) in September as the Career Center coordinator, she has been spending time introducing herself to members of the community.

Hunter's goal is to develop an increasing number of partnerships between Agawam businesses and the Career Center for the benefit of the city's students.

In addition, she hopes local business people will visit the school as career speakers to share their expertise with students.

According to Hunter, each student attending Agawam High School is required to take a career exploration class before graduation, in which they learn about and discuss career choices.

She explained that the Career Center takes the career exploration a step further and gives interested students the opportunity to participate in a job shadow program, experience paid and unpaid internships and may also help them find employment.

"Career exploration somehow [provides them] importance to academics they are doing in school," Hunter said.

Through the job shadow program, students leave school to shadow a professional who works in a career that may interest the student.

"Job shadow is a one day opportunity for students to have a day in the life [of a professional]," she said, adding that all students can participate. She said that many students who participate in the program tell fellow students how "wonderful" the experience was and decide to look into it themselves.

For the internship program, juniors and seniors may leave school during the last one or two class periods of the day to work at a local business as an intern. Hunter said both paid and unpaid positions are available for students.

She said that she coordinates the businesses with student interest. For example, if a student is interested in graphic design, she tries to locate a business that would allow that student to do a job shadow or give the student an internship opportunity in that specific field, she explained.

"They learn things they can't learn in the classroom," she said.

Hunter added that some students may learn that they love the profession, while other students may learn that they dislike a profession, causing them to look into another career.

She said that the Career Center programs also give students the opportunity to learn in a different environment.

"We are not all book learners," she said, adding that she herself is a more "hands on" learner.

In addition, Hunter said that the Career Center programs offer businesses the chance to work with the future workforce.

Hunter currently has nine students in the job shadow program and 53 interns.

She said that some of the students work with Agawam teachers, while others intern at local businesses such as the Big E, the Agawam Public Library, a physical therapy office and one in the entertainment industry.

She explained that each student is responsible for keeping track of a time sheet of the hours they worked and are required to complete journal entries regarding their internship experiences.

Hunter said that one student in the internship program wrote in her journal that she is now happy to come to school because of her experience in the business world.

According to Hunter, the goal is to give students enough information so that they can make a knowledgeable decision about where to take their education and which career path to choose. She said that the students will then take what they learned and make changes based on information rather than influences and suggestions by other people in their lives.

She added that the Career Center programs allow young students to discover a potential career path "before it is too late."

"If you find a job you like, you don't work a day in your life," she said.

Hunter is seeking businesses to partner with the school as a job shadow or internship location for students.

In addition, she is seeking business professionals to visit the school to speak about their personal experiences. Recently, a private investigator, a representative from the Chameleon Cosmetology School and a representative from New England Institute of Technology conducted lectures, which Hunter said were "all geared toward student interest."

Hunter said that she presented her ideas to the Chamber of Commerce Board members, who she said were "very receptive" to the programs at AHS. She has also approached the Rotary Club.

Any local businesses interested in becoming involved with the Career Center either as a speaker or job shadow or internship location can contact Debra Hunter at 786-0861.