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Job shadowing gives high school students a chance to explore career paths

KANNAPOLIS — Sam may be a mannequin, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have bad days. Friday morning from a hospital bed, he blinked slowly at a group of students crowding around him.

“I feel really bad,” he said.

Then he crashed. An alarm sounded as his heart-rate flatlined, and the nurse closest to him shouted, “Code blue” before starting CPR.

It’s a scenario Sam went through again and again as high school students tried out their life-saving skills.

Nearly 40 students from Rowan and Cabarrus counties gathered at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s N.C. Research Campus building Friday as part of a job shadow training program.

The program, organized by Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ career and technical education department and the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, sought to give high school juniors and seniors a glimpse at what their futures might hold.

It’s a partnership that began in 2017, with just 34 students and 18 businesses participating. This year, those numbers doubled with more than 80 students and 39 businesses.

“It’s quite a dramatic jump up. … And the feedback we’ve gotten from everybody was just phenomenal,” said Elaine Spalding, president of the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.

Celebrating Groundhog Day with job shadowing is a way chambers across the nation are helping to foster relationships between businesses and school systems, Spalding said.

“It makes it a fun way to get people interested and excited about job shadowing,” she said.

And it can help students see that there are job opportunities for them right here at home.

“So hopefully when they finish their education, they’ll be able to come back here and help our community grow and prosper,” she said.

Students were surveyed based on their career interests earlier in the school year, and the results were used to match them to a business for Groundhog Day. Rowan-Salisbury students then spent the day getting hands-on experience and trying out everything from starting an IV to farming to studying game development.

At the research campus, South Rowan High School junior Gracie James used a specialized drill to insert an IV directly into the bone of a mannequin infant. The drips are used in cases of severe dehydration, when veins and blood vessels have collapsed.

James said she found the simulation exciting.

“I love walking in and getting the full experience,” she said.

James said she wants to be a pediatric oncologist, but she plans to start her career in medicine with Rowan-Cabarrus’ nursing program. For her, the job-shadow experience was eye-opening.

“I think it’s a very hands-on experience that lets you know for sure that’s what you want to do,” she said.

Leigh Miller, career development coordinator at North Rowan High School, said that was the point of the day: to see the realities and ins and outs of each career path. It’s something that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Students spent, on average, three hours in the morning or afternoon tagging along at a variety of businesses, schools or institutions.

“Even during that short time frame, it can help (students) decide a yes or a no,” Miller said.

“This is the time and chance to see if this is what they want to pursue in life,” said J.C. Alexander, career development coordinator.

For James, it cemented her goal.

“That was really helpful,” she said of the day. “As long as I can make one kid happy, my life will be complete.”

While some found the needles and drills to be nerve-wracking, others found them inspiring.

“It’s actually pretty fun,” student Alsadi Mohammed said.

Bethanie Stauffer, a senior at Salisbury High School, hopes to work in a lab, not a hospital room. But she said her time shadowing nursing students was still enriching.

“Even if I don’t end up working as a nurse, this is still helpful,” she said.

North Rowan High School student Sierra Thomas said her time shadowing not only helped her see what she could be doing as a nurse in the future but taught her some valuable life lessons, as well.

“If you put your mind into something, you can do it,” she said.

While Groundhog Day was a celebration of job shadowing, Spalding said she wanted to remind students and businesses that it is not too late to sign up for or offer internships, apprenticeships or job shadow opportunities.

“We would love to get more and more businesses involved in offering internships,” she said.

Businesses interested in offering learning opportunities for students should contact the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce at 704-633-4221 or Mandy Mills with Rowan-Salisbury Schools at 704-636-7500.

Alexis Neely, a junior at North Rowan High School, contributed to this article. 

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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