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City, district partner to show students local government jobs

Denton High School students tour government facilities as part of Denton Experience Day
Career fairs are a staple in education because they tend to show students the various options available to them upon graduation from high school and college.

But are these examples exciting? Moreover, can they be exciting enough to convince a 16- or 17-year-old to invest the time to pursue that as a career?

Understanding this process, the City of Denton broke from the traditional career fair path and didn’t bring speakers into the classroom – they brought a group of approximately 30 students into the field or office to get a hands-on look at what their potential job or career would be like. Instead of a typical career fair, it was aptly named Denton Experience Day.

“When I spoke to [Assistant City Manager] John Cabrales about the possibility of putting students in position to get an actual look at what jobs the city has to offer and ask questions to the people working them, I thought it was a no-brainer,” said Tim Sanchez, a science teacher and LULAC Youth Council sponsor at Denton High School. “I mean, where are else are these kids going to get that kind of opportunity?”

Leslie Salazar agreed.

While the Denton High junior thought she was going to be in for a long day of listening to adults preach about why their jobs or careers are good, she instead listened to impassioned messages from people excited to be at work. She admitted that it wasn’t what she was expecting to hear.

“When the people here speak about their jobs, you hear how much they love their jobs,” Leslie said. “A lot of them said that they started at the very bottom and have now gone very high up, telling me that they grew here and appreciated that they’re now in a position to make better choices for the place we live.”

Students said that coming into Denton Experience Day, they often associated city or municipality jobs were roles along the lines of sanitation workers, police officers and summer jobs, such as lifeguards. What they quickly learned is that Denton isn’t your typical city.

With its own electric company, water treatment plant and a focus on renewable goods, students learned that Denton offers a variety of engineering careers. They toured the city landfill, fleet service center, police training facility and Pecan Creek Water Reclamation Plant, where they were able to ask questions from a wide range of employees, including entry-level workers, supervisors and department heads.

“A lot of [government workers] said that they started at the very bottom and have now gone very high up, telling me that they grew here and appreciated that they’re now in a position to make better choices for the place we live.”

Each department gave a brief presentation outlining what its duties are in supporting the city and its various jobs and careers. The usual questions of salaries, benefits and vacation time came up, but so did more serious ones invoking stress levels and the probability of getting hurt on the job. Students were even shocked to learn that the city pays tuition reimbursement, allowing hourly paid workers to earn their bachelor’s degrees or those on salary to gain their master’s degrees.

George Campbell, Denton’s city manager, said the goal was twofold on the city’s behalf. While they did want students to know that the city employs more than 1,300 people across 700 departments and in 60 facilities, they also want to stress the opportunities Denton offers to bilingual workers.

“We always want people to learn about the city as a good employer and organization, but we also want kids to see how they can take a regular job and make it into a career here in their hometown,” Campbell said. “Our hope is to find more bilingual employees for the city, so why not have them be products of Denton ISD.”

Students got a first-hand glimpse at one of their own succeeding at home while touring the fleet services center. Fuel Specialist Charlie Rosendahl talked about how his time in automotive technology at the LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex helped prepare him for the nuances of maintaining all of the city’s vehicles, keeping them fueled and in working order.

Cabrales even opened one student’s eyes and mind as he described his rise through the ranks as a former police officer who worked with students as part of the DARE drug awareness program into city administration.

“I came in thinking that I wanted to go to college and be a police officer,” said Francisco Flores, a Denton High junior. “Now, I’m thinking that if he can go from being a police officer to a city manager’s job, I can too.”

The city and district are looking at ways to expand Denton Experience Day to include more students and possibly more career fields. Students said tours of the new animal shelter or DTV studios would likely be a hit with their classmates and friends at the other Denton ISD high schools.

“This was a great experience for my kids and I want the students at our other high schools to benefit from this too,” Sanchez said.