Portland High School career center seeks to open workforce doors for students

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PORTLAND — Despite educators’ efforts to convince high school graduates to attend post-secondary schools, there are always those students who end their educations after 12th grade.

Now Portland High School has launched a career center to help them be better prepared for life after high school. 

The career center was established by using funding from GEAR UP, a statewide program trying to create a sustainable culture in schools that supports students who are economically disadvantaged in preparing for, accessing and succeeding in post-secondary education. The grant was used to purchase 15 laptop computers and to pay for the center’s staffing. 

“We’re not discouraging students from going on to college,” PHS GEAR UP adviser Stephanie Doyle said. “We’re just simply recognizing that some students aren’t ready for two-year or four-year colleges, so we want to give them other opportunities to expand and grow and see what else is out there.”  

Janet DiBaise, the district’s executive secretary, said Portland schools have received more than $63,000 from GEAR UP in each of the last six years. About $15,800 was used this year to start the career center.   

Doyle said the idea of having a high school career center was conceived by teachers during a series of professional development sessions last year. The group wanted to create a one-stop shop for students seeking information about life after high school.

“We really felt like there wasn’t a place where students could access a lot of information, other than (about) two-year colleges and four-year colleges,” she said. “For those who were choosing not to go to a two-year or four-year school, they weren’t really aware what the other options were.” 

Students can still receive information about colleges at the center, but Doyle said there is now more information about community service projects, job shadowing, internships and apprenticeships for students either looking to enter the workforce or who are interested in taking a year off between high school and post-secondary education, known as a “gap year.”

Doyle said the center is offering a modest level of services in its first year and hopes to expand next year. About 100 students have taken an active interest in the center, she said.  

“We didn’t want to do too much in the first year,” Doyle said. “We wanted to do a few things well.”

One of the services offered this year is a lecture series, where area professionals come into the high school to speak with students about their professions. The center scheduled two lectures by health science professionals in October. University of Southern Maine psychology professor Ira Hymoff spoke to about 10 students on Monday and Eric Cooke-McAllister, a physical therapist at Edgewater Physical Therapy in Falmouth, was scheduled to speak on Wednesday. 

Ultimately, Doyle said she would like to offer at least four speakers a month, with each month devoted to a professional or trade theme.

Although a student may be inclined to enter the workforce out of high school, Doyle said those students are still encouraged to continue their educations after high school.

“We’re still telling students that college is an awesome option,” she said. “We just want kids to know what else is out there.”  

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net