HAMMOND — Hammond sixth graders got an inside look at dozens of careers Wednesday during Franklin Elementary School’s College and Career Expo.
Nearly 60 companies and community organizations, ranging from firefighters and medical professionals to the US Army and Indiana University Northwest, came to the school to show students what it’s like to follow their career paths. Many included demonstrations: Hammond police brought an unloaded gas grenade launcher that the SWAT team uses, and the Dunes Learning Center showed off the animal pelts and bones its staff use to teach about nature.
Up to 800 students from eight elementary schools across the School City of Hammond came, including every sixth grader in the district. Kids from other grades at Franklin attended, too.
For Jackie Minkalis, a school counselor at Franklin who was one of the organizers, the presentations went “far beyond our expectations.”
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“We could never have done this without the partnership of every single vendor that is here,” she said. “Parents who have come through have actually asked if they could just stay and walk the vendor tables without their kids.”
Minkalis said she’s thrilled with how students interacted with vendors, asking questions and learning about various careers.
“We could not be prouder of our students,” she said. “Our goal was to inspire our kids, to know that they can dream big and do more. They can learn more and they can learn how their current mindsets and their current behaviors translate into these amazing careers.”
Minkalis knows that many might think sixth grade is early for kids to be thinking about an adult career.
“When I first reach out to vendors they’re like ‘wait, so it’s sixth grade?’ It is. Let me explain. So we want our younger students to understand that they have to start putting in some work now. We want them to dream big, and their end goal may change a thousand times between now and their future career, whether that be the trades, manufacturing, colleges, different careers.
“They can change their minds a thousand times. However, they need to start working on those skills now.”
Those skills, Minkalis said, include the basic building blocks they learn in elementary school, such as communication, teamwork and attendance. It also helps them learn the importance of receiving a high school diploma.
“Not all of our students in Hammond have the ability or the resources to know what is out there accessible to them and how to get there,” she said. “So our concept really was to bring the world to them while at the same time start introducing them to how they can bring themselves to the world.”
Mike Sanders had a career in radio before starting freelance video production for corporations, live events and individuals. He called the fair “a blast.”
“I knew it was going to be big, but I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” he said. “So it’s great to see the community come out like this.”
Sanders brought his camera, a monitor and a livestream setup. As students walked by, he pointed the camera at them so they could see themselves on the monitor and showed them how to add visual effects, put their name in a banner below the video and turn it from a home video into a professional production.
“A lot of kids watch a lot of YouTube, they consume a lot of media,” he said, “but don’t know that they can do it too.”
Sanders was impressed that the students were starting so early: “If I had something like this when I was a kid, I think I’d be emperor of the world.”
One student, Isaiah Jordan, called the event “lit.”
“It’s fired up,” he said.