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image Amanda Zawacki, a leader with Beth Shield’s Middle School’s AVID program, hands out safety goggles before students enter the work areas of the Kennco manufacturing plant. Photo Penny Fletcher

“This kind of experience gives students a chance to see how things operate in the real world.”

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN — Bank employees set up chairs and readied their stations. They set out plates of cookies and bottles of water.

Nicole Arbisi prepared to talk with students about customer service at the teller desk.

Becky Lorenzo talked about how she would tell them the story of her transition from working in the fields with her parents to managing a McDonald’s and then using her cash-handling experiences to move into banking.

Ann Mize prepared to talk about the various aspects of banking in which she has worked for more than 35 years.

Then the busload of students from Beth Shields Middle School pulled up outside and about 45 students in the AVID program got out.

They were greeted by Charlotte Clark, vice president and area manager for American Momentum Banks in Apollo Beach and Sun City Center.

Chairs had been set up in the Sun City Center bank Nov. 14, where students sat and listened intently as Clark gave a brief talk about working in a professional environment.

She explained how to dress and act, from picking up an application through the interview process, and also what was considered good behavior on the job once it was secured.

Differences between everyday professional dress and professional casual were discussed as well as attendance and professionalism.

“You don’t show up — even to pick up an application — in an outfit that may be a fad, but that you would wear clubbing or to a movie,” Clark said. “First impressions can not be undone. They are lasting.” 

When the talks were over and each employee had done her part in explaining their function in the banking system to students, Josue Gonzalez and several others showed Clark they would remember the three points of a professional greeting just as she had told them: a sincere smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake.

The student’s time at the bank was the first of two experiences planned by the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee which is chaired by Brandy Evans, chief financial officer at Kennco Manufacturing Inc., in Ruskin where the students went next.

The trip was the first one of its kind sponsored by local businesses but the Education Committee members say it will not be the last. They are seeking other businesses to host AVID students, of which Beth Shields has 226 under the direction of AVID Coordinator Amanda Zawacki. Once the Beth Shields AVID students have had their turn, the committee plans to approach other area schools as well.

According to Zawacki, AVID students are those in a college readiness program who are “middle ground” in academics.

“The students with higher grades get scholarships, and those on the lower end get many different kinds of services, but students in the middle who have a desire to succeed are often left out,” she said.

AVID means Advancement via Individual Determination and is a class taught in both middle and high schools.

In order to contrast the professional environment with a technical one, the next host was Kennco Manufacturing Inc.

Arrival was also anticipated in advance at Kennco, where employees lined up outside the main building to greet the bus as it pulled in.

Robin Knowles, owner and president; Brandy Evans, chief financial officer; and Chelsey Giurbino, purchasing officer, had their staff ready to show the students what happens inside a plant.

The first thing they did was discuss safety and hand out safety goggles.

Kennco is a manufacturer of farm equipment, mostly made to individual specifications depending upon the needs of a particular grower.

“If it goes in a salad, we make the equipment to produce it,” Robin Knowles said.

Some of the equipment used in the plant costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, explained Evans. “Heavy equipment is designed to last for many years,” she said.

Then Mike Magee explained the torch-cutting process and Mike Shuman showed some equipment made in the 1940s and 1970s.

In the fabrication room, Shuman explained that there was a great demand for qualified machinists all over the world.

“This is very skilled work, and it is a trade you can learn from the bottom up,” he said. “The thing is, once you get a job, try and learn as much as you can about the other jobs and duties in the company. Make yourself valuable to them.”

Thomas Smith had a lot of questions while on the tour of the plant.

“How much does something like this cost?” he asked. Pointing to a large machine. And “What do you make with it?”

When he asked if other countries bought the machinery built there Evans answered that it’s shipped to Africa, and the Philippines and Mexico. “It’s all over the world,” she told them.

Once the tour of all the buildings in the plant was completed, the bus headed to E.G. Simmons Park for lunch.

American Momentum Bank and Kennco had bought Subway meals and provided drinks for all of them, which they ate under the large picnic shelter across from the playground.

During lunch, the students were questioned about the differences between the professional and the trade environments.

Most all the girls preferred the professional environment, except for Jaelle Gilot, Justice Eliam and Trinity Keels.

They said they preferred the trades because they liked to be able to move around freely, especially outdoors.

“I love nature,” said Eliam.

The boys, however, preferred the trades, except for Josue Gonzalez, who said he was going to work on the professional greeting taught him by Clark.

Melanie Morrison, executive director of the SouthShore Chamber said they are seeking business sponsors and will host a similar outing once there are two more sponsors signed up.

“This kind of experience gives students a chance to see how things operate in the real world,” Morrison said. “It exposes them to employees who have real work experience and can give them a first-hand look at what they actually do on a job.”

To find out more or to volunteer, call the chamber at (813) 645-1366.

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