Destinee Moore has no doubt about her career plan: herpetologist.

“I grew up a Steve Irwin kid,” she said, watching “The Crocodile Hunter” since she was 3 years old. The William Blount High School senior grins when she handles a snake or even talks about it.

While some other teens were slinging fast food or playing video games, Moore was earning course credit working at Zoo Knoxville two days a week.

Part of her job was picking up cover boards just to see what kind of creatures had crawled beneath. Moore already was doing similar work on campus as part of a project to document wildlife beside a cross country trail when the zoo’s director of animals, conservation and education, WBHS graduate Phil Colclough, visited.

That’s how the zoo joined nearly two dozen employers offering William Blount and Heritage high school students work-based learning experience at sites from beauty salons to manufacturing plants.

Moore was among more than 50 Blount County Schools students to receive certificates Tuesday during the 4th Annual Work-Based Learning Banquet, held at WBHS.

Clarifying careers

The first experience in a workplace can be a confirmation or a revelation about career goals, said William Blount health science teacher Dena Eakins. Whether a student is well suited for a career or not is important to discover before they go too far along a career path.

Health science students put their certified nursing assistant skills to work at Blount Memorial Hospital and Shannondale of Maryville.

Before they left campus, however, “we had 27 different skills we had to learn,” said Kailey Barron, who plans to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant, with her first stop at the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing.

“The CNAs were really sweet and helpful,” Barron said of the employees where she worked.

The hospital was more fast paced, she noted, as she worked in both the emergency and dialysis areas. She even witnessed a birth. “That was a life-changing experience,” Barron said.

Ashton Burchfield was considering a career in cosmetology, but now she’s heading to Pellissippi State Community College to earn an associate’s degree in nursing, with plans to continue her education at Lincoln Memorial University.

When students began to have hands-on experience in the second-level health science class, medical therapeutics, she was hooked.

At the hospital Burchfield helped care for someone still weak from surgery, brushing her teeth and fixing her hair. While a patient may not later remember getting a shot, Burchfield said, “They remember the little things. They remember being taken care of.”

Sarah Price grew up on a small farm, and every year when her mother asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the answer was the same. Now she’s entering the pre-veterinary science program at Walters State Community College.

Last fall Price began her work-based learning at Southwind Animal Hospital, and now she’ll be an employee through the busy summer season.

“I love all the hands-on experience I’m getting,” she said.

Price assisted when her own dog, a German shepherd and Great Pyrennees mix named Bear, was neutered. Emergency surgery on another dog gave her a taste of the high-adrenaline experience of being a vet.

“I never had anything like this,” said Dr. Deborah Hicks, whose first experience working in a veterinarian’s office was in college.

Hicks said she didn’t know what to expect when Southwind signed up for the program but wanted to be more involved in the community. “It was a perfect fit for us,” she said of working with Price.

Students must apply for the program and complete training in soft skills, such as communication, before they head out to the work sites.

“We send our top students to these employers,” said Linda Goins, who coordinates the program at HHS.

The work-based learning benefits the employers as well, helping them identify students in whom they want to invest.

Jonathan McKenzie earned a spot in an apprenticeship program at DENSO Manufacturing Tennessee. After graduation, the company will pay him full time for 40 hours a week split between attending classes at Pellissippi State and working at DENSO.

“School is basically a job,” McKenzie said. When he completes an associate’s degree in industrial maintenance, DENSO will put him through its own 18-month course.

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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