STERLING – More than 1,100 eighth-graders from 23 area schools flooded into the Whiteside Area Career Center this week and were pointed in a dozen different directions of potential career paths.
Jerry Winger, student services coordinator at WACC, said the number of schools participating in the tours, which were held Wendesday, Thursday and Friday, has grown from 15 to 23 during the past 7 years, allowing the center to reach out to more and more prospective students.
"They are getting exposure to all of our careers and much-needed skills they are going to use for the rest of their lives," Winger said.
The tour guides were center students who volunteered out of a pool of about 630 high schoolers from throughout the area, most of whom were in the eighth-graders' shoes just a few years ago.
"They're proud of what they're doing, and they're sharing that pride with others," Winger said. "It takes the whole building to put this together, and we couldn't be more appreciative of their efforts."
Emily Dawson, a Milledgeville High School senior studying criminal justice at the center, on Wednesday led one of the 14 groups of students from David L. Rahn Junor High School in Mount Morris.
It's beneficial to gauge the students' interests early on, to help them find what career direction is best, Dawson said.
"It's not just about how great these programs can be for their future; it's about all the people they'll meet, too," she said. "It's important to let them know how important it is to be around other people in a different element."
Dawson plans to major in biology at Sauk Valley Community College and eventually transfer to a 4-year university.
Andrew Wolfe, an eighth-grader at Rahn, said that, from the "drug deal gone bad" crime scene to body armor and self defense offerings, the criminal justice booths were the highlight of the tour.
He was able to walk a tape line under the influence of "drunk goggles" fairly well – until he nearly toppled over.
"It was pretty fun," he said. "The criminal justice was great, but I also liked the child care and the health care and the cars and some of the others."
Joey Bardell from Aplington Middle School in Polo said Thursday that he enjoyed the Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities class, in which students build and operate their own businesses.
This year's CEO class raised $14,000, visited 45 area businesses and heard from 60 professionals.
That presentation also was the focal point for Amboy eighth-grader Delaney Tooley, who liked the idea of being her own boss.
"I might want to go into business for myself some day," Tooley said.
Ashton-Franklin Center student Josh Meyers said he's interested in automotive work, an area in which he already has a bit of experience.
"I help my dad with his car; my uncle owns a shop in Iowa," he said.
Rock Falls Middle School student Isaiah Pyron also favored the automotive lab, while classmate Sydney Reyes said she was leaning toward early childhood education.
Gage Offill of Shannon, who attends Eastland Junior-Senior High School in Lanark, said he was interested in the computer technology program, which ranges from app design and programming from knowing the ins and outs of hardware and software.
"I like graphics and editing," he said. "I'll consider going into it."
Beyond the sparks flying in the welding lab and elevated cars in the automotive services garage, it was the quiet and colorful Kiddie Kampus that caught Saylor Jilderda's attention.
"I think they're really unique for being able to have all of this here," the Bureau Valley North eighth-grader said. "I really liked the early childhood presentation; I think it would be great to work with little kids."
Classmate Jack Bivins said he was impressed by the building trades students wielding knowledge of power tools and electric wiring, but he's keeping his options open.
"I haven't really thought about what I want to go into," he said. "I'd like to come here, though."
The students will get another sampling of the center's programs in 2 years, after their interests are further developed.
“When these students come back as sophomores for another tour, we like to see if their future career tastes have changed,” WACC Director Paula Rademacher said.
School participating in the tours included Ashton-Franklin Center, Amboy, Aplington, Bureau Valley North and South, Challand, Christ Lutheran, David L. Rahn, East Coloma/Nelson, Eastland, Erie, Faith Christian, Forreston, Montmorency, Morrison, Ohio, PLT Middle School, River Bend in Fulton, Rock Falls, and St. Anne in Dixon.
Call 815-626-5810, go to wacc.cc or find the Whiteside Area Career Center on Facebook for more information.