By Devan Strebing firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — The Area 31 Career Center may just be the best kept secret on the westside of Indianapolis. Located on the Ben Davis High School campus, the career center is connected with the high school, consisting of 40 programs designed to help further students’ careers.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for students,” Patrick Biggerstaff, assistant principal for Career Center Programs, said. “Our programs are for two years; half a day the student is learning academics at their home school and then they come here for three hours learning from our instructors who are industry professionals. For example, for someone that takes the aviation program, they leave here flying planes. We have some nice resources here and we would love to increase the awareness of the career center.”
The Career Center allows students to build their career in high school. While freshmen, students first learn about the center and what it can offer them, then as sophomores they can start taking introductory classes. By the time they are juniors and seniors, they can decide what skills they have and what they are good at, and can begin their career.
Most are able to get dual credit from Vincennes University or Ivy Tech College, or an institution that accepts it. This way, students could complete their degree early by getting a head start at the Career Center.
“It makes them employable and sets them ahead for school,” Career Pathway Specialist/Cooperative Education Coordinator Scott Borah said. “You have to have at least a ‘C’ average and a teacher recommendation, but any student can come here. This is a school of choice, a program of choice. They are saying ‘this is what I want to do later in life, I want to be here.’”
There is also a co-op program that includes various choices where students can actually be in a work environment. This year they include auto service technology, collision repair technology, computer tech support , graphic imaging technology, health science (CNA), construction trades technology, early childhood education, pharmacy tech, and welding technology.
“Every week students turn in where they’re working and if it’s a satisfying work experience,” Borah said. “Every nine weeks their employer has to give them an evaluation. Some employers will only take 18-year-olds, but some say ‘well, if we get them in, we can train them how we want’ and they take them. Some even send the employee onto school with a scholarship.”
One senior never realized his computer repair skills would transfer over in finding a co-op job.
Ben Burton of Plainfield High School works at Cellular Necessities at both Castleton and Greenwood Park malls.
“I originally heard about the Career Center during a meeting in my school’s auditorium my sophomore year,” Burton said. “At that time I didn’t know what I wanted to do my junior year, so I decided to take a computer repair course at the Career Center and loved it.”
He attended class three hours a day, every day he had school. He received high school credit and college credit from Vincennes. Now in his senior year, he’s doing the co-op program where he goes to work part-time.
“I didn’t know co-op existed until half way into my junior year,” Burton said. “They said you get the job repairing computers or devices, you get paid to go to school. I thought ‘this sounds awesome.’ It has been fantastic. I’ve learned many things that I believe will help me pursue a career in computer repair.”
Burton plans on opening his own business one day using the skills he learned from the class and the job.
“I learned more than I ever thought I would,” he said. “I went into the class knowing some things about computers, but when I left I was blown away with how much I had learned.”
Burton plans on continuing to work at Cellular Necessities until after college. He plans on attending either Ivy Tech or ITT Tech.
“Overall, it has been a good experience,” he said. “I would absolutely (recommend students to go through the Career Center), teachers are friendly and very good. You learn a lot.”
Paul Persico, owner of Cellular Necessities and Burton’s supervisor, said he received a call from Scott Borah out of the blue one day.
“The thing that piqued my interest was that my father was a vocational director in Vermont, and I knew it was a similar program and it had a special place in my heart,” he said. “We got the ball rolling by doing the interview process. Scott Borah mentioned the explosion in cell repair business and I hired Ben before the holidays.”
Burton works part-time, has been introduced to new phones and is continually being trained on them.
“He’s improving his skill set,” Persico said. “The more he improves, the more we’ll keep him around. Ben has been my first one from the Career Center. He’s got some goals and is interested and attempting to see if this is what he wants to do.”
Persico has been in this business for 13 years, having started out as a small business in Indianapolis in 2000. They were first focused on the accessories, no service, but once the market changed, they added repair, trying to fulfill the need of the marketplace.
“We’ll continue to do this,” Persico said. “The first trial was successful with Area 31; there will be a good chance of looking them up again.”
Richard Hettenvan, the computer repair instructor at Area 31 Career Center, said Burton has a lot of enthusiasm.
“He’s in the computer repair and CISCO class, and networking, it’s a one-year class,” Hettenvan said. “He was one of the students that was always volunteering and doing things, taking the initiative for things to do.”
Hettenvan has been teaching at the Career Center for 19 years and he keeps in contact with several of his former students.
“If I hear of a job, I pass it along to my students,” he said. “One student who graduated three years ago has his own computer repair business and he called me wanting to hire co-op students. We’re paying it forward now.”
With his hands-on classes, Hettenvan says he tries to keep the programs dual credit.
“Unfortunately, it has gotten more difficult with the number of credits you need,” he said. “You have to start thinking about this as a freshman in getting the credits you need to graduate.”
Borah added, “Many people say ‘I have this degree and I want my dream job’ and when they go for an interview they don’t have the skills that they need for the job. All they come back to is that I have the degree. The percentage of students graduating with a degree after five years is 35 or 40 percent. We’re setting up an early college career center for the freshmen now.”
There will be four programs in which students will be able to earn an associate in applied science degree in four years. They will have their high school diploma and their associate degree, all in the same four years. The programs that will be offered are culinary arts, pharmacy tech, aviation maintenance, and precision machining. These will be available for the freshmen when they are seniors, so they are working to get their prerequisites now.
There are 12,000 students in all schools that are taking CTE classes (career and technical education classes) that are on deferral and state pathways, but Biggerstaff oversees 1,500 of those students at Ben Davis.
“If you look at all of the CTE funding programs that are offered here, about 60 percent are Ben Davis students and 40 percent are from other areas,” he said. “For traditional career center classes (25 of the 40) 50 percent are Ben Davis and 50 percent are other schools. It depends on the program.”
Many people do not know that the Career Center offers services to the community such as oil changes and tire rotations at a cheaper price.
For more information, call the Career Center at 988-7230.