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Sarah Curran knows she can cope with the pressure of emergency room nursing, Bobby Hamblett knows he wants to be a recording engineer, and James Molyneux knows something equally important-that he does not want to be an automotive technician.
Curran, Hamblett, and Molyneux were among the students who spoke about their experiences at a recent breakfast program highlighting the School-to-Career Program at Valley Regional High School. The program, overseen by program coordinator Mary Hambor, places Valley Regional students with local professionals so they can match their career dreams against the reality of the workaday world.
"It gives the students real-life experience, shows them skills they need at work, and they learn how to collaborate with people," said Joanne Beekley, assistant superintendent of Regional District 4.
Curran, who will attend Endicott College next year to study nursing, did an internship at the Shoreline Clinic.
"It gave me an inside look at the Emergency Room. There was definitely blood, and I know now it didn't bother me," she said.
Hamblett, who interned with Tom MacGregor at Deer Lane Recording studio in Ivoryton, will attend Hartt School of Music next year to focus on recording technology. He was emphatic about the value of his experience.
"I found what I am going to do with my life," Hamblett said.
James Molyneux went to Porter & Chester Institute in Branford, which allows Valley Regional students involved in School-to-Career to attend their training programs free of charge. He said he loved cars and always thought he wanted a career in the automotive field. But the training convinced him of something different.
"I want to keep it as a hobby," he said.
He plans to study English at Middlesex Community College. One of the Valley Regional students who attended Porter & Chester, however, did find what he wanted. Stone Gilbert will study to be an electrician as a full-time student at the school next year.
Some 48 students participated in the internship program, at sites from Deep River and Essex elementary schools, to the workplaces of physicians, accountants, and corporations. Given the demands of their academic schedules and the needs of their sponsoring mentors, some students worked after school, some during free academic periods, and some even on weekends.
Audrey Garden, who thought she might like a career in business, interned at The Millard Group, an executive search firm, in Middletown. She learned how to use Internet sites to find potential job candidates and saw how recruiters interview them. Next year she will attend Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.
Chris Chiappa, who was a physical education intern at Deep River Elementary School, learned he has the right profession, but the wrong age group.
"I think I'd like to work with older students," he said.
The relationships were not one-sided. Rachel Ryan of Rachel Ryan's Fitness in Chester said that her intern, Sena Spinella, helped her with the intricacies of social media, using Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to share information with potential and existing clients of the gym.
"She jumped in with great suggestions," Ryan said.
Mary Nodden, a 3rd-grade teacher at Essex Elementary School, said one day she had to step out of the classroom for a moment and when she came back, intern Jackie Steeves was reading the class a story and asking them questions.
"Just what I would have done," Nodden added. "It was a pleasure to guide her through the year."
Steeves will study elementary education at St. John's University in New York next year.
Jake Luster, who interned for his father, local physician Steven Luster, said even though he was used to hearing about his father's work, seeing what he did was, nonetheless, eye opening.
"Surgery was an amazing highlight," he said. Luster, who will attend Lafayette College, plans to study medicine.
The School-to-Career program at Valley Regional involves not only internships, but also job-shadowing opportunities and presentations by a variety of companies about employment in their fields. Hambor is always eager to find local professionals in a wide variety of areas who would be willing to take on an intern. The success of the program, she said, depends on the successful matching of the mentor and the student.
Some Valley Regional students have done internships in both their junior and senior years. As a junior, Evan Haston worked with the school's computer instructor, Coral Rawn. This year, he worked with Chris Shane of Essex Asset Advisors on both computer hardware and software. As he looked back on his experience, Haston wished he had done an internship even earlier in his high school career.
"It was a bummer it took me so long to find out about internships. When people ask me, I always tell them it was my favorite thing in high school," he said.
This is the eighth year of the School-to-Career program at Valley Regional. Old Saybrook high school has a similar program.
To volunteer to be a mentor for the School-to-Career program at Valley Regional High School, contact Mary Hambor at firstname.lastname@example.org.