Octorara's 6th annual career expo opens doors to students' future
● By Richard Gaw
As Andrea Weaver, a teacher in the Octorara School District, welcomed youngsters to her Envirothon table at the sixth annual Agriculture, Business, Environmental Science and Technology (OABEST) Expo held June 2 at Octorara Area High School, she knew that her exhibit had a larger purpose than just handing out swag.
Weaver, one of hundreds of teachers and professionals throughout Pennsylvania who coordinate the natural resource environmental education program, worked with Octorara students this year on building a butterfly and vegetable garden on school grounds this past year, “it was obvious to me that this was the first time many of them had ever gotten their hands dirty,” she said. “Imagine that happening in a rural part of Chester County.”
It's a decline she's been seeing for the past 30 years.
“I am passionate about taking care of the environment, and I want students at a very young age to see that people can have an impact on the environment, and that it's part of our responsibility to care for it. I want them to love being outdoors. Envirothon introduces them to good stewardship, and that it's up to them to care about plants, animals and trees, in order to understand what makes Pennsylvania great and why we need to protect it.”
While the primary emphasis of the expo highlighted the widening breadth of the district's commitment to agricultural education, hundreds of students from elementary school to recently-graduated seniors visited exhibits throughout the school's lobby, cafeteria and hallways, and met with representatives from business and higher education. The expo also included student demonstrations, science fair exhibits, first responder demonstrations, crafts, music and games, hayrides and several agricultural exhibits.
The expo also served as the site of the Octorara Angels Rainbow Run, a memorial 5k Color Run/Fun Walk that raised awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning, that took the lives of Octorara students Carly Imbierowicz and Daulton Pointek in 2014.
“The main focus of the expo has always been to promote the industry of agriculture, and bringing that to the attention to parents, students and the community,” Lisa McNamara, K-12 administrator and director of of the district's Career & Technical Education programs, said. “Octorara has always been an agricultural area, but changing the perception of agriculture is a very big piece of this event. Not diminishing the importance of farming, we're celebrating the awareness that there's so much more to the agricultural industry: agri-business, agri-sciences, and different types of farming.”
The expo also served to reflect Octorara's Career and Technical Education's commitment to education and outcomes. Students who have graduated from the program's Homeland Security and Protective Services program are now studying nuclear engineering in college, while other graduates of the graphic design program are now employed with large companies; former graphic design students are now working for large companies; culinary school graduates have continued their education at cooking schools; and former students in the district's agricultural program are now employed in nearly every component of the agricultural industry.
“The purpose of these programs has always been to develop the talents of these students and reinvest them back into the community,” McNamara said. “One of the messages we're working on that will shine at this year's expo suggests that instead of asking 'What college are you going to?' we want to begin asking, 'What is your career plan?'
“We're in the process of changing mindsets and culture,” McNamara added. “Seventy percent of the jobs out there don't require a four-year degree, so the narrative that creates the beginnings of careers no longer begins and ends with a four-year degree anymore.”
Pa. State Rep. John Lawrence, who attended the event, said the OABEST Expo showcases not just the agricultural heritage in Chester and Lancaster counties, but serves an the opening of a door to young people throughout Chester and Lancaster counties.
“This is the future that we're trying to impart to the next generation, in order to bring them along to carry that tradition forward for future generations after them,” Lawrence said. “This event started out as a farming expo first, and over the years it's expanded to include so many other interests. I commend [former Octorara Area School District Superintendent] Dr. Thomas Newcome and other folks who have had the vision to put on a festival like this, that attracts major corporate sponsors, for a day of family fun.
“It also serves to highlight the great work that the students have been doing, as a cap to what they've accomplished during their school year.”
“This event is all about making sure that students see themselves somewhere on this campus,” Weaver said. “A lot of times, we think of taking students in one direction that's largely an academic one, and while that's certainly what we're all about as educators, there are so many other paths forward at Octorara. It's important for them at an early age to see themselves in the future, and to work towards that.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.