VOICE project pitches careers to Barry County students

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
A MoDOT employee shares a hands-on presentation with elementary children on how bridges are built, to pique their curiosity about career paths as part of the Vocational Opportunities Inspiring Children in Elementary project. Contributed photo

Age-appropriate career fair offers far-reaching benefits for youngsters

School children are known for dreaming big — always ready to tell others what they want to be when they grow up.

To help them keep dreaming and show them what they can do and be, not just tell them, the Ozark Area Community Action Corporation’s Barry County Neighborhood Center plans to bring the VOICE project to Barry County elementary children this summer, which stands for Vocal Opportunities Inspiring Children in Elementary.

“We’re excited about the project,” said Gail Reed, Barry County Neighborhood Center director. “It allows kids [kindergarten through fifth grade] to think about the possibility of career vocations they might not have thought about or have been exposed to before.”

The project brings career professionals into the school setting for brief, hands-on presentations about their career field.

“In one session, we had a Barry Electric employee speak about his career, bringing lineman clothes,” Reed said. “That’s probably not anything a child would think about, so it just plants a seed for them about a career they might want to do. The concept is to plant those seeds in kids’ minds, expose them to different things and get them thinking about all the possibilities.”

According to program research, children who complete an elementary-based career awareness program experience higher academic achievement, and display improved personal and interpersonal skills.

Career professionals from six different career paths as identified by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education volunteer.

“We find one speaker from each of those paths [for events], and try to use local professionals if we can,” Reed said.

Those paths include arts and communication, business management and technology, human services, natural resources and agriculture, industrial engineering and technology and health services.

“It’s a couple of years old and is like an interactive, age-appropriate career fair for elementary children,” said April Landry, VOICE coordinator. “We have someone come in and present about a 10-minute, hands-on presentation on their profession. We try to get a wide range of professionals and create a volunteer pool.”

Volunteer presenters don’t have to be professional speakers to participate and make a long-lasting impact on children.

“It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just something kids can relate to. Anyone that’s truly passionate about what they do would be an awesome presenter, or someone retired who would like to continue promoting their profession.”

The event lasts about an hour, and children rotate to different career tables.

“When someone from MoDOT came, they had the kids build a bridge; and a dentist used props to show kids how they clean tarter off of teeth,” Landry said. “The kids are given a passport with places they can make notes about careers they liked that they can take home to parents to encourage further discussion.”

The project has proven successful in OACAC’s 10-county area.

“It started as a pilot project, and 2017 was the first year we’ve really pushed it in all 10 counties,” said Kathy Moore, VOICE coordinator. “We would like to get the project in as many schools as we can, and we’re hoping to expand even beyond Missouri.

“It’s kind of a foundation, and taking children that might not ever see a lawyer or optometrist and grow those aspirations, get them dreaming and get those wheels turning. It also gets them understanding that they have to do well in their academics [to achieve their aspirations] and gets them motivated on something.”

The project also has other, far-reaching benefits.

“Really, VOICE is teaching [young students] to make proactive choices as well, because you have to choose to do well in math to become an engineer, for instance,” Landry said. “We had a student go through an industrial technology presentation, and was really mesmerized and requested to be put in more math classes. So to go from feeling like a certain career path doesn’t apply to them to taking an advanced class [makes a difference]; and with the interaction we do, it really does help connect them.”

“It can also help grow their community,” Landry said. “A lot of rural communities are wanting their children to stay in their community to nurture and grow them, and some careers may not be available in their area right now, but it encourages these kids to go out and learn, and then bring back that knowledge and grow their communities. Or, it could be a child is wanting to stay in their community, but not sure they can make a sustainable living, and this program gives them ideas on something they can do that they can make a good living at. These children are their [community’s] future employees.”

Volunteers are currently being sought and always encouraged, Reed said. If an individual or business would like to make a positive impact on local students by sharing a brief presentation about their career field, contact Reed at 417-847-2140, Moore or Landry at 417-873-3374, or kmoore@oac.ac to get involved.

OACAC is a non-profit agency and the VOICE program is ran by grants and donations. For more information on giving, visit www.oac.ac.

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