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Chester County Press

Open doors to success

03/08/2018 10:38AM ● By Stone Lieberman

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer


In 2013, designed as a way to showcase the work being done by students enrolled in the agricultural component of Octorara Area School District's Career & Technical Education program, the district kicked off its first Agriculture, Business, Environmental Science and Technology (OABEST) Expo.

Through displays, demonstrations and interaction between students, parents and the local business community, the event served as a reflection of the impact that the curriculum, its students and their work was already having on the local agricultural industry.

Now, as Octorara prepares for its sixth annual OABEST Expo on June 2, the mission may remain the same, but its outreach is reflective of a changing business environment – one that affects not only Chester County, but the entire world.

“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,” said Lisa McNamara, K-12 administrator and director of of the district's Career & Technical Education programs. “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.”

While the primary emphasis of the expo will continue to highlight the widening breadth of the district's commitment to agricultural education, it will also shine a light on many of its other career and technical programs: business & marketing; engineering and drafting; graphic design and illustration; culinary arts preparation; and Homeland Security and Protective Services.

This year's expo, which will be held at Octorara Area High School, will provide a generous overlap of students, local industry partners and businesses, colleges, educational mobile lab facilities, government officials and industry workforce, who continue to contribute to the changing narrative of the district's technical education. While a traditional four-year high school diploma often leads to the pursuit of a college education or an entry into the workforce, the education a students in Octorara's Career and Technical Education opens up several doors of opportunity, while at the same time giving graduates industry certification and practical skills they can use to pursue a two-year or four-year degree; or directly enter the workforce with advanced training in the field they wish to pursue. 

The proof of the program's success is in the lives of its graduates.

“One of our students who graduated from our Homeland Security and Protective Services program is now studying nuclear engineering,” McNamara said. “Another graduated from the same program and is now employed at the Chester County Public Safety Training campus. Several of our former graphic design students are now working for large companies, several of our Culinary students are now studying in Philadelphia, and students we taught in our Agriculture program are working 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. 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.”

The sixth annual OABEST Expo at the Octorara School District will take place on June 2, 2018, from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at the Octorara Area High School, 226 Highland Road, Atglen, Pa. 19310. The expo will include student demonstrations, science fair exhibits, first responder demonstrations, crafts, music and games, hayrides, and several agricultural exhibits.

To learn more about this year's Expo, visit

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].