Crystal Everson was a nurse.
Lydia Link was a physical education teacher.
Their peers were everything from pilots to police officers to photographers.
About 138 juniors from Kenai Central High School participated in the school's 10th annual Job Shadow Day last Wednesday, taking an opportunity to spend a day in the working world, trying out the career of their choice.
While some lament cuts to vocational education and job preparation activities in area high schools, the Job Shadow Day provides students with what many consider an invaluable glimpse into the future.
Juniors, as well as a handful of sophomores and seniors, pick a career that interests them and pair up with professionals in the local community to learn more about the industry of their choice in a hands-on fashion.
For some students, the day is an opportunity to gain experience in a career they already know interests them. Crystal, for example, spent several years helping take care of her grandmother, who suffered from cancer. Now she is taking a course to earn certification as a nurse's assistant. She spent her day with Sears Elementary School's nurse, Bekki Jackson.
Crystal said she is interested in working in a cancer unit at a children's hospital, but added the morning spent with Jackson gave her a better perspective into school nursing.
"I wanted to see different types of places," Crystal said. "There are some kids with a lot of health problems. I didn't realize that."
Jackson said Crystal already is ahead of the curve by taking college classes in high school.
"It's not like she's coming in not knowing a thing," Jackson said. "Being that she's (on her way to being) a CNA, is helpful in taking about medical information."
Jackson discussed a number of nurse-related job functions with Crystal, explaining first aide and medical screenings. And, Crystal had an opportunity to get hands-on practice, helping deal with kids with lice and pink eye. Jackson even let Crystal try her hand at giving shots by practicing injections on an orange.
"The value of this day is just to give her awareness of the spectrum of nursing," Jackson said.
Lydia also went into the day with a firm grasp on her future plans. A former summer camp counselor, Lydia wants to pursue a career as a PE teacher and spent the day working with Don Weller at Sears Elementary.
"It's been really fun and the kids are really fun to get to know," Lydia said. "They're just happy."
Lydia helped Weller direct parachute games with second-graders and teach tumbling skills to younger students.
It was just the kind of experience she said she was looking for.
"I think it's important for kids to learn to exercise early on," she said.
Other students went into the day with a less clear picture of their future plans but had an opportunity to explore a range of career options. Kira Matiya, for example, said she wasn't sure what she wanted to do after high school and college. But, she said, as she researched possibilities, a career in journalism came up as one option.
Kira spent the day at the Clarion and by the afternoon said she'd decided on a career.
"Using Job Shadow Day to explore one of the careers I found interesting, I found that this is more of what I want to do than I realized," she said. "Now I see that this is a career that I am truly interested in."
The students weren't the only ones gaining from the day, though, according to speakers at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce meeting last Wednesday. The chamber cosponsors Job Shadow Day with the school.
Casey Hershberger, a Kenai police officer who graduated from KCHS in 1997, said he has had the chance to work in a number of places but chose to come back to the peninsula.
"I've been out there. I had a chance to be out there and work, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted my family to come back to this community," he said.
Jim Hakkinen, a maintenance planner at Tesoro, said he hopes today's young people will make similar decisions.
"We'd all love you guys to go out, get an education and come back," he said.
But wherever they end up, Hakkinen told students to pursue a career they are passionate about.
"Do something that grabs ahold of you," he said. "Have passion and you won't fail."
"Hopefully, you guys will find something you will be happy doing and really excel in," he said. "I encourage you guys to challenge yourselves, always be pushing the envelope."
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