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MCLA Annual Eighth Grade Career Fair

NORTH ADAMS — Their future is closer than it seems.

College and career may seem far off for area eighth-grade students, but in reality, deliberations focusing on higher education and jobs for 13- to 15-year-old students begin about two years from now.

Students from seven Berkshire region public schools gained career insights during a eighth-grade career fair hosted at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts campus Thursday and Friday. The morning sessions were held at Bowman Hall.

Charles H. McCann Technical School science department Chairwoman Erin Mucci led a forensics careers session.

"I think it's great to get the kids to a college campus and link that with career," she said. "That is great."

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the annual event. The fair is sponsored by MCLA and the Berkshire Compact and was partially funded by a $7,500 Guardian Life Insurance of America grant.

Participating schools are Berkshire Arts and Technology charter school of Adams, Gabriel Abbott Memorial School in Florida, Hoosac Valley Middle School in Cheshire, Drury High School in North Adams, Nessacus Regional Middle School in Dalton, and Reid and Herberg Middle Schools in Pittsfield.

MCLA Director of Admissions Joshua Mendel noted the pressures that students entering high school endure.

"There is peer pressure and decisions about high school," he said. "The framework is to understand that the students are at a pivotal point. With the fair, they can spend 25 minutes with people who can mentor them. It's in our mission as a state college to have the partnerships between schools and the colleges and the communities."

The timing is crucial for grabbing student attention, said Pittsfield High School college and career counselor Gina Wagner.

"Seeing freshmen in high school, it's almost too late to get them interested in career fields," she said. "Getting them started thinking about college and career, it's the sooner the better. Having witnessed the presentations, I can say that the hands-on learning is huge and the kids like it."

A 20-career agenda was selected earlier in the year from student surveys and the students chose four top interests from the list. Careers represented included athletic coaching, money management, education, health care and law. Each student was assigned two sessions from their top picks, said Berkshire Compact Program Coordinator Susetta "Sue" Doucette.

"Our goal is to raise the aspirations, increase the access and attainment to college degrees," she said.

A Friday morning Nature and Conservation Careers presentation drew about 15 students.

"I love animals and I grew up around animals," said Cody Kuczynski, a 15-year-old Nessacus student. "I am enjoying this. I think you get solid information and the people who are doing the presentations are good.'

The session was led by Michael Leavitt, trails and outreach coordinator with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, and Nancy Duquette, a Level Three wildlife technician with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Students quizzed the duo about working with animals in wilderness habitats.

College is a must for a career with state wildlife agencies, Duquette stressed.

"And we get to work in the woods all day with awesome people," Leavitt said. "How cool is that?"

Student volunteers attending Pittsfield High School teacher Todd Eddy's Culinary Careers presentation found themselves slicing and flipping their way through the session. Using a sharp stainless steel knife and a crepe pan, the students deftly chopped apples and onions and flipped crepes without a spatula following Eddy's instructions.

Careers such as carpentry and engineering have environmental niches and those interests led Nessacus students Austin Solomon, William Grube and Joshua Casella to a Green Technology session. Facilitators Diana Vasquez and Coryanne Mansell of the Northampton-based Center for EcoTechnology led the career discussion.

All three students said they are investigating various components of "green' careers.

"My cousin has solar panels on their house and I am interested in solar panels," William said.

"I want to make the world a better place," Austin said.

"I really want to get rid of trash," Joshua added.

Adams Police Department K-9 Officer Curtis Crane and his canine partner "Kumar" led an Emergency Services session.

"This lets the kids know that they can make something of themselves," he said.

Drury High School college and career facilitator Molly Meczywor said the sessions generate an awareness of academic readiness and workplace readiness. Recognizing that decisions made now will impact their future is important, she said.

"We are in school to help kids be successful in life," she said.