Eighth-grade students at Long­fellow Middle School took a break from their normal routine Friday for a full day of learning about possible careers during the school’s second annual Career Day.

Jeanice Polwort, Longfellow guidance counselor, said Career Day started last year as a way to motivate eighth-graders before moving them on to high school.

“Last year, it started as just a way to get some inspiration to the kids,” Polwort said, “to give them a vision for life outside of school, beyond high school.”

She said Career Day took on extra meaning after the state mandated last year that counselors help eighth-grade students design a career plan.

This year a wide variety of professional fields were represented, including presenters from Vance Air Force Base, Garfield County District Attorney’s Office, Leonardo’s Children’s Museum, Be Unique Salon, Sharon Sudduth Studio, Main Street Enid, St. Mary’s Physicians, Enid Police Department and Okl­ahoma City engineering firm of Olsson Associates.

Polwort said the variety of speakers helps give students a glimpse of their possibilities after school.

“It just gives them ideas about what’s available,” Polwort said, “and also the presenters share their own struggles with the students, so the kids can see ‘If they can do it, so can I.’”

While middle school may seem early for planning a career, Polwort said eighth-graders are building skills they will need in their professional lives.

“This is when they start developing study skills, social skills, all the skills they will need for their career,” Polwort said. “It starts hitting home for them now that when you go to high school those things count, so for me the sooner they start (career development) the better.”

Capt. Joe Basala, a pilot assigned to the 71st Flying Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base while awaiting follow-on training to fly the F-16, said Career Day enabled students to learn more about Vance and the military in general.

“I think it’s a good opportunity to explain to them something they probably see every day, but probably don’t get a chance to have explained to them,” Basala said. “It’s a good opportunity to show the community what we do.”

Basala said he never had an opportunity like Career Day when he was in school, and he was glad for the opportunity to share with the students at Longfellow.

“When I was little, I didn’t have anything like this,” he said. “I didn’t have someone come to tell me I could be a pilot, and I would have really appreciated this. I’m just trying to provide them something I didn’t get to have.”

Enid Police Department Sgt. Jason Priest spoke to six different groups of students during the course of the day.

He said the day’s sessions were an opportunity to both teach the students about law enforcement as a career, and to dispel some misconceptions about police officers.

“It’s important because we’re visiting with kids that are getting ready to move into high school,” Priest said, “and we want them to not only understand what law enforcement is and what we do, but also to understand it’s a possible career path for them.

“I think the more people understand what we do in law enforcement, the better,” Priest said. “That can help remove some possible misunderstandings.”

Priest said he “was pleasantly surprised at how involved the students were” during Career Day.

“Sometimes when you think of middle school kids you think of them not being that in tune with current events, but I was surprised with the level of the subject matter they were discussing,” Priest said. “I enjoyed my time here, and I hope they do it again next year.”

Polwort said Career Day was a success because of the willingness of local business owners, professionals and leaders to volunteer their time.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the presenters and the time they’ve given, because it is a sacrifice,” Polwort said. “It provides positive role models for the students, introduces them to all kinds of opportunities, and shows them there are people willing to go above and beyond for them.”

Longfellow Principal Lynne Peters credited Polwort with starting Career Day, which remains a program unique to Longfellow among Enid schools.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our students, and Mrs. Polwort did an excellent job organizing this day to help students prepare for their lives,” Peters said. “Hopefully it opens some new ideas for them to see what they might want to do when they grow up, and it helps them see what hard work can get them.”

Story Provided by:  Enid News and Eagle

Written by:  James Neal