Auto shop at Sturgis Brown High School
This spring, more than 100 business and postsecondary representatives gathered in the Sturgis Brown High School gym, marking the 10th Annual SBHS Career Fair. Surrounding districts are taking notice, with several busing in students, and teachers visiting to learn how they might do something similar in their own schools.
Coleen Keffeler, the school’s director of career and technical education, leads the effort and has built relationships with many Black Hills area businesses over the years.
“We have a very active advisory board, who helps us plan the fair,” Keffeler says. “The community as a whole is also very supportive of our CTE program. For instance, Pat Kurtenbach with the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation is good about letting me know when a new business comes to town and inviting me to talk to them about our Youth Internship program.”
The career fair is one of many ways SBHS works to help students determine what careers they’re interested in and what they need to do to prepare to go into that field.
A first-year industrial technology student works on a welding project.
With 10 career clusters represented, the school’s CTE program is extensive. It was also the first in the state to offer students Youth Internship, back in the early 1990s.
One benefit of having such a large program, SBHS Principal Pete Wilson explains, is the ability to offer multiple levels of courses, from beginner to advanced. For instance, in the auto shop pictured above, freshmen work on small engines on the tables to the right. If they continue taking the automotive technician sequence of courses, eventually they get to bring in their own cars to practice routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations.
“We have awesome staff here, both in CTE and non-CTE areas. There are a lot of partnerships and collaboration between CTE and other departments,” Keffeler says. “Probably about half of our seniors use either their Youth Internship, CTE classes or CTSO [career and technical student organization] membership as the basis of their Senior Experience. That’s pretty exciting.”
One example of this collaborative effort, Keffeler says, is fitness/weight lifting teacher Sage Robinson-Miller, who incorporates the Senior Experience into her Level 3 course. In addition to teaching proper lifts and mentoring less experienced lifters, Level 3 students study an area that they can use for their Senior Experience research paper.
Keffeler says a cross-curricular project in previous years involved AP English students teaming up with culinary, journalism, music and photography students to put on a medieval fair.
Geometry in Construction students built this shed.
SBHS students have also had the opportunity to obtain the National Career Readiness Certificate for the past several years. “I have seen more and more students getting their NCRC,” Keffeler says. “I stress to them that it’s something they can put on their resume and scholarship applications. They’ve really been taking it seriously. Those who end up just one or two points away from earning the next certificate level often ask to retake the test.”
So, what happens after Sturgis Brown graduates leave the school? Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to the power of the Sturgis CTE program is when graduates come back and visit with current students.
“A lot of the businesses that we call to come to the career fair know us pretty well, and they’ll bring in one or two former Sturgis students who are now working for them,” Wilson says. “Coleen also organizes a reverse career fair, where students go and tour businesses in the Sturgis industrial park. They get to hear from Sturgis graduates working at a number of those businesses, too.”