By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: May 30, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – In only a few short weeks, dozens of young men and women will walk across the stage at Virginia State University during Dinwiddie High School’s graduation exercise. For many of them, their four years of high school education was shaped by a special event that has grown from humble beginnings to one of the county and school division’s most anticipated events of the year – the Teen Expo.
This year’s sixth annual Teen Expo returned to its traditional home over the last five years, the lush open campus of Richard Bland College, offering 140 students and dozens of parents an opportunity to learn while also having fun with their students and members of the community.
During Saturday’s expo, students were immersed in a number of student success sessions, ranging from topics including shaping their future beyond secondary education, overcoming obstacles, and, specifically for high school students, a session where they’ll get a crash course on adult life and going over some of the overlooked but necessary knowledge they will need as they prepare to go into the world after high school, like changing a tire, delivering everyday first aid and CPR, along with developing effective communication skills.
While remaining grounded in education, the expo also serves to include fun elements for students to partake in, from games to contests and giveaways. Ahead of the event, Deputy County Administrator and a regular volunteer at the Teen Expo Tammie Collins stressed the importance of having the students play a key role in the direction of themes of the annual expo.
“Without their voice, this isn’t relevant,” Collins remarked. “We have made sure that we engage with our students to make sure we cover exactly what they want to see.”
Collins added, this event and the engagements she has had personally with students as a host of a student session in years past breaks the stereotype that young people don’t want to learn the life skills they’ll need once they leave for college or other endeavors after high school.
“We have heard some of their greatest fears is going out and not knowing how to do things,” Collins shared, having hosted sessions on soft skills in the past, such as reading a paper bill or properly writing a check. “I did the session with them and I was thrilled to see their eyes light up as we walked through these things. We have had some of our strongest survey responses from that session because they want to know.”
“Each of those things we can remove and teach them is great,” she continued.
Dinwiddie students engage in critical thinking exercises as a group during this year’s Teen Expo, one of the most popular youth events in Dinwiddie County, held at Richard Bland College over the weekend. (Dinwiddie County)
Another way this year’s event kept itself close to the heartbeat of student interest was through the use of student ambassadors, who were engaged in the planning process and used social media to get the word out about the expo, while also learning proper social media etiquette that they can carry with them both now and into the future.
In addition, parents were also given valuable information during last year’s expo, with sessions on financial planning for life after their children finish high school, college planning, and a host of others.
This event is one of several initiatives organized by Dinwiddie’s Youth Workforce Development office in partnership with Dinwiddie County Public Schools, which includes other events like Dinwiddie High School’s Industry Day, where businesses, colleges, and others come to the high school to engage with students and give them real-world experience with various fields, their summer workforce program, Government Day, and others that serve to keep students engaged throughout a year, not just when they are in the classroom.
At Government Day earlier this month, which allows Dinwiddie County High School senior government class students to serve as mock supervisors during a detailed budget exercise, Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill talked about the importance of being consistently connected with the county’s young people, who will become the future workforce and leaders of Dinwiddie in only a few years.
“The goal of this, initially, was just about creating programs that could impact as many students as possible,” he detailed. “As we add to the youth workforce development initiative, in many cases, we are reaching the same person multiple times, but in some cases, we just introduce people to particular aspects of the programs,” adding that these initiatives have allowed them to “broaden the horizons” of their efforts in regards to youth workforce development and exposing students to more opportunities.
One of the many products of the county’s youth workforce programs was Dinwiddie High School senior Aaron Johnson, who took part in all of the county’s workforce programs, even serving as County Administrator Massengill’s intern, the first in his office. In April, Johnson shared his experiences with the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors and how he used those lessons to grow.
“My junior year, I started my own photography business and I was hired at Food Lion as a customer lead,” Johnson shared as he recounted his time in the workforce program, where he worked at the school bus garage before transitioning to other businesses for employment. “As a high school senior, I am currently a DECA officer, a youth ambassador, and I am part of the teen staff program. As a participant in the teen staff program, I am humbled and grateful to be Mr. Massengill’s first intern in the program.”
He continued, “Being in his office, I have gained a wide range of knowledge and experience in government. I have also been allowed to participate in a lot of cool meetings and projects, such as planning the Teen Expo, the resource council meetings, budget meetings, and, my favorite was being able to attend the Virginia Association of Counties Government Day at the General Assembly where I was introduced to elected officials from around the Commonwealth, such as Delegate Lashrecse Aird and Senator Rosalyn Dance, who represent our district.”
“In all of the programs, I have gained valuable experience. The various positions I have held have taught me a variety of skills, such as attention to detail, integrity, leadership, teamwork, diversity awareness, time management, networking, lawn care, how to mail correspondents, how to send a professional email, and the most important one, customer service,” Johnson recounted.
“Because of my experience in the program, I am a witness to its benefits,” he said. “At the end of the year, I will be the first to complete all eight programs under the youth workforce development initiative. I thank you all for making this opportunity possible to students like me.”
As the Expo concludes, Cierra Gravely and her staff prepare for the summer workforce program, continuing to keep students engaged through the summer until the return to classes next year.
For additional information on all of the different programs available to Dinwiddie students, contact Cierra Gravely, Marketing and Youth Workforce Development Coordinator at 804-469-4500, ext 2154 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.