Students from Conard, Hall, and Farmington high schools participated in the fifth annual Junior Achievement Career Walk through West Hartford Center on Monday.
By Ryley McGinnis
High school students with their backpacks in tow made their way not through the front doors of their respective high schools Monday morning, but instead into the crowded conference room at the West Hartford BlumShapiro office.
Over 30 students from Conard High School, Hall High School, and Farmington High School came together early Monday morning for the fifth annual JA Career Walk through West Hartford Center. The students in attendance volunteered for this walk in order to get an insight into the real world of business by seeing a wide array of shops, banks, and retailers throughout West Hartford Center. Businesses like Farmington Bank, Max’s Oyster Bar, Fathom, Lux Bond & Green, and more were included in the walk.
The students day started with a welcome from the president and CEO of BlumShapiro, Joseph A. Kask. His advice for the students: It is okay to make mistakes as long as you recognize and learn from those mistakes.
They were also welcomed by BlumShapiro Chief Marketing Officer Thomas DeVitto. He told the students about his youngest daughter and her internship experience in college. “From her internships she first realized what she didn’t want to do, she didn’t want to sit behind a desk,” said Devitto, and he made it clear that this was a big part of the experience for this program: to give students an idea of what they do and don’t want to do.
“These students will get a new perspective of businesses,” said Devitto, “So when they go into a restaurant, like Max Oyster, they’ll know that their fork didn’t just get there, they’ll have much more background.”
The walk was started five years ago by Devitto and Jeremy Race, the President and CEO of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England. “We came up with the idea in a Starbucks,” said Devitto. He and Race were looking for a way to bring the students to the businesses since a lot of the businesses don’t have an opportunity to close up their shops for a day to go and talk to the students themselves.
The program also shows the students the relevance of what they’re learning in school and can help put them on the right path, said Race. “The schools took a big leap of faith five years ago sending their kids to this program,” said Devitto. “But now the retailers and the schools understand the value of it.”
Maryanne Taft, a teacher at Hall High School, sees the value as well. “The program is an eye opener, it is like taking a peek behind the scenes,” she said. Taft said she has seen the program help some students decide what they want to do, usually with a business focus, and some students have even gotten jobs at the places they visited. Most importantly, the walk adds some personality to business for the students. “It puts a face to a business instead of a sign or a place, it shows a personality,” said Taft.
Some of the seniors who attended the walk already know what they what to do, and are using the walk to get an inside look, like Julia Wiener, a senior at Hall High School. Wiener will be going off to study business in the fall and hoped today would give her some idea of what the business world is like. “I chose business because there seemed to be more opportunities than in other fields, and I’m interested in the hospitality field,” said Wiener.
Two groups of students went off in separate directions when they left BlumShapiro around 9:30 a.m. and both saw a wide range of businesses around West Hartford. One of the stops was Max’s Oyster Bar, where the students saw parts of the food-making process from beginning to end – from the storage rooms and fresh produce shipments, to taste-testing the New England Clam Chowder.
The most difficult part of the restaurant business, according to Max’s Oyster Bar Executive Chef Hunter Morton, is being able to juggle everything all at once. “When you’re dining it’s hard to understand and it takes a lot,” said Morton, “You have to see [it from] what happens to what comes out on your plate.”
Another stop for the students was Lux Bond & Green, where they got to learn about the retail, jewelry repair, and jewelry creation process. One big piece of advice the store manager, Annie Andreoni Kovath, gave to the students was to be careful what they post on social media. “Many employers are looking at social media these days, and you have to put your best foot forward for your future,” said Kovath.
Kask said that participating in this program is a big step for the students to show that they care about their future.
Kask told the students to go back to school and tell their friends about the program because next year he hopes to be able to move out of the BlumShapiro conference room because so many students want to participate.
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