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Chestatee High proves signing days not just for sports stars
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From right to left, Sergio Alcala, signing with Kubota, Alex Aldaco and Kyle Speaker, both signing with IMS Gear, all students at Chestatee High School, prepare to sign with respective companies for apprenticeships after completing work-based learning studies on Friday, May 10, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

Public ceremonies where star high school athletes choose the college where they intend to play their sport have become commonplace in recent years, with the likes of ESPN often airing such announcements. It builds buzz.

But for students who will pursue academic and career technical degrees without the spotlight or promise of fame, graduation and matriculation to college is typically an unheralded affair.

That changed on Friday, May 10, when Chestatee High in Hall County held its first-ever “career tech signing day,” with three seniors accepting apprenticeships with local businesses during a press conference-like event with family, friends and faculty in attendance.

“These students have worked hard all year,” said Holli Howard, the work-based learning and youth apprentice coordinator at Chestatee High. “They’re doing just as many good things as our athletes here to take the next step. We want to make sure we’re celebrating all students … that’s what we’re all about – capitalizing on each student’s strengths and abilities.”

Hall County Schools has partnered in recent years with businesses like Kubota Manufacturing and IMS Gear, as well as the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and Lanier Technical College, to expand workforce development and career-training educational programs for high school students.

“One of the goals of Chestatee High School is to make students life ready,” said Matt Stowers, assistant principal. “We don’t do that without huge partnerships.”

Kyle Speaker, a senior who will graduate this week, said he was nervous during the signing event.

But that feeling is balanced by the excitement he has for an apprenticeship he will take with IMS Gear, which has a manufacturing facility in Gainesville, while attending Lanier Technical College.

“They have a whole room for their apprenticeship program in the plant,” Speaker said, adding that he’s toured the operations several times to get an idea of metal working.

Though he’s not yet sure what career he will specifically dive into, “I seem to be on the right path,” Speaker said.

Alex Aldaco, who plans to study engineering and will also enroll at Lanier Technical College this fall, said his apprenticeship with IMS Gear is just the beginning of his dream.

“It means a lot to me because I get to start on the career I want to pursue,” he said.

Aldaco’s parents are first-generation immigrants and he will be the first in his family to attend college.  

The same is true for Sergio Alcala, who also plans to enroll at Lanier Technical College in the fall.

But Alcala is taking an apprenticeship with Kubota Manufacturing, which operates out of the Gateway Industrial Centre on Ga. 365 in North Hall.

“The fact that I might have the experience (through the apprenticeship) … gives me more of an understanding of what I’ll be handling,” he said.

Greg Worley, Kubota’s training manager, said the apprenticeship offers young students like Alcala additional education, on-the-job experience, as well as pay while they finish their college studies.

And for Kubota, apprenticeships allow the company to recruit and train young workers to meet the company’s specific employment needs.

Worley said Alcala will begin by inspecting parts in the company’s warehouse before moving him into the research and development group within a year.

“This (signing day) makes my heart happy,” said Rhonda Samples, director of career, technical and agricultural education for Hall County Schools. “We’ve talked about this for a number of years.”

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