This was the first-ever Career Signing Day for Orange County Schools. A total of seven students were present and eight students overall signed contracts with companies committing to jobs and internships. The companies included were Dominion Energy, Hoof Beat Farm/Murray’s Landscape Maintenance and Horticulture Services, LLC, Capital Ford Hillsborough and Aramark Corporation/Carolina Dining Services.

Students signed career and internship agreements with regional companies on June 12 as part of the first-ever Orange County Schools (OCS) Career Signing Day, hosted jointly by the Hillsborough Orange County Chamber of Commerce and the OCS Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

“It never occured to me that I would be a mayor,” Mayor Tom Stevens said at the event. “I started out as a preschool teacher and just kept moving.”

Stevens was joined at the event by OCS Superintendent Todd Wirt, OCS Board of Education (BOE) Chair Will Atherton, OCS Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director Shannon Braxton, Hillsborough Orange County Chamber of Commerce Executive Officer Kim Tesoro, the Chamber’s 2019 Executive Committee President Chad Collins and, of course, the students who signed certificates of commitment with four local companies.

“What makes someone employable is just a smile -- looking in somebody’s eyes,” Collins said. “These kids have dirt under their fingernails and they’re ready to get to work.”

Orange High School (OHS) graduate Alyssa Baldwin signed with Aramark Corporation/Carolina Dining Services, Cedar Ridge High School graduate Max Boger signed with Capital Ford Hillsborough, OCS graduates Hunter Pettiford and Chris Rorrie signed with Hoof Beat Farm /Murray’s Landscape Maintenance and Horticulture Services LLC and OCS graduates Jonah Jimenez, Jay Taylor, Daniel Rath and Wesley Winston signed with Dominion Energy.

Most of the positions will be internships that will combine a number of skills within each industry, allowing the signees to gain education and training while also stacking up real-world experience in their fields.

Baldwin began interning with Aramark last year, which led to her new post-graduation job.

“I love cooking and, during the internship, I ended up just really wanting to continue this,” she said. “I want to go to school for baking and pastry arts, and Aramark is going to be offering me some really valuable training, too.”

Giving students who do not choose college after graduation a chance to publicly announce their plans is a relatively new idea, popular in OCS this year with the Career Signing Day as well as high school-hosted Decision Day events, such as one at Cedar Ridge High School on May 30 where all high school seniors had the chance to announce their post-high school tracks.

Braxton was hired as OCS CTE director in Dec. 2018, placing additional focus on OCS students who are looking to pursue careers after high school. According to Braxton, the Career Signing Day event will be an annual one moving forward.

“These students are part of the talent pipeline towards career pathways,” she said. “OCS has been working collaboratively with stakeholders to change the conversation about where students are going after graduation.”

Before the signing portion of the event began, Tesoro, Collins and Stevens also recognized a group of eight students who were selected as participants for the Chamber’s new Students Transforming Expectations and Exploring Real Opportunities (STEER) Youth Leadership Program for the coming school year.

The new program is targeted at rising tenth and eleventh graders who possess leadership skills but who have not yet decided on a carer or educational track to pursue.

Students will spend one day each month visiting a business and will also participate in a new Habitudes curriculum that will work on further developing leadership capabilities.

“We took applications from OHS and CHCS,” Tesoro said. “These students will explore careers for themselves, but will also act as ambassadors to their schools for the program.”

BOE Chair Will Atherton, said that, moving forward OHS administration will be looking at how to advance CTE even further in the district.

“We recently worked on a CTE report,” Atherton said. “We’ve been working for six to eight months on this, we’ve brought in businesses and we’re looking at the past and future. We’re asking ‘What is CTE? How do we create a vision that finds approval with the students and parents?’ Shannon Braxton came in and there’s really a new energy surrounding CTE in the district.”