Tech students gain real-world career experience

Tech students gain real-world career experience

Aspiring electrician KyZei Vester has replaced bad receptacles, exchanged faulty breakers, and wired everything from townhouses to million-dollar beach mansions with elevators.

And she’s only a senior in high school.

Vester, of Lewes, is a student at Sussex Technical High School participating in the school’s Work-Based Learning program, which places students into jobs in their career fields for part of their senior year. It opens up a new world to Tech’s students, who choose one of 17 career-technical fields in which to specialize. Vester is enrolled in Tech’s Electrical and Green Energy program under instructor T.J. Dukes.

“In the field, it’s different from the classroom,” Vester explains. “This lets me get a real feel of the trade. It’s been very broad in the type of work I’m doing.”

Participation in the program grew by 85 percent from 2017 to 2020, with 45 percent of seniors spending time in their fields last year.

Though pandemic restrictions have reduced the number of students this academic year, enthusiasm continues to grow, with students still signing up for the spring semester, said Sussex Tech Work-Based Learning Coordinator Dona Troyer.

“From nursing to HVAC, our students are eager to join the workforce, gain hands-on experience, and contribute to local employers,” Troyer said.

Participating seniors work part-time in their field and attend classes part-time to complete their graduation requirements. A variety of class schedules creates flexibility for work opportunities, Troyer noted. More than 85 percent of students work for more than 20 hours a week.

Work-based learning is a key part of Sussex Tech’s renewed focus on career-technical education, said Superintendent Kevin Carson, Ed.D.

“Sussex County residents and businesses deserve the very best students and employees, and that is exactly what Sussex Tech is producing,” Carson said. “Our graduates are equipped to start working right away in their chosen field, pursue advanced education, or serve their country through the military.”

Alicia Foreman of Dagsboro has spent her senior year working at Peninsula Dental in Millsboro – wearing many hats to gain experience in the different facets of the business. As a dental assistant, she describes herself as the “arms and legs of the office,” working in hygiene, orthodontics, and helping the dentists. “You have to stay on your feet!” she said. “I love that I am going to have knowledge going into hygiene school, and that I already have a feel for the hands-on part of the dental field.” Foreman is enrolled in Tech’s Dental Services program under instructor Ryan Doherty.

Like the businesses they work for, students have had to adapt to COVID restrictions. Vester said on service calls in peoples’ homes, it’s just like normal only with a mask. Foreman said the dental office uses strict sanitization protocols, and staff wear masks, shields and gowns. “It can get really hot, but it keeps our patients safe,” she said.

After graduation, Vester is planning to continue in the electrical apprenticeship program through Sussex Tech Adult Education and work as an electrician; Foreman aims to become a dental hygienist after earning her associate’s degree.

“Just being able to put a smile on my patients’ face makes my day,” she said.