State program connects Fitch students to community

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Neighbors | Submitted.Detective Sergeant Kathy Dina mentors Kaylee Aliberti in the Community Connectors program. Dina has shown Aliberti labs and some crime scenes. Aliberti is interested in criminal justice with a focus on forensics. Pictured, Dina taught Aliberti how to dust for fingerprints and pull prints for identification.

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Neighbors | Submitted.The Community Connectors program joins together students with community members in the students' field of choice. Pictured is Marc Robenolt, an ICU nurse, and Nate Armstrong, a student at Austintown Fitch High School who plans on going to nursing school.

By ZACK SHIVELY

zshively@vindy.com

A new program at Austintown Fitch High School takes students from the classroom and into the community to learn about desired professions and employment skills.

The Community Connectors is a program started by the Ohio Department of Education and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber that pairs students with members of the community in order to get the students career ready. Amy Trafficante works as the director of the program at Fitch along with Lynn Mickey, the program coordinator.

Nick Santucci, Director of Education and Workplace Development at Regional Chamber, said the program has four steps. First, they recruit students. They work on those students soft skills, such as eye contact. Then, they place those students with job opportunities to put the soft skills to practice. Finally, they will work with a mentor in their preferred field.

“Our vision is to get a small population of students job ready,“ Santucci said.

Students joined the Community Connectors through a teacher recommendation. The students must also have a 2.0 GPA and good attendance to be a part of the program.

The program helps the students work on the soft skills they will need to be career ready. In talking with companies in the area, the Regional Chamber found soft skills were one of the biggest workforce concerns. These skills include communication skills and interviewing as well as other qualities needed while job searching, such as resume writing.

They hope to get students employed while in high school to get work experience and put those soft skills to the test. The students do not have to find work since many may have busy schedules with many different extracurricular activities.

Trafficante and Mickey paired students with mentors from the community to help the students. For example, they placed student Logan Nelson, who wants to study and get either an esthetics or cosmetology license, with Theresa Rankin, director of the Casal Aveda Institute. The Institute is a school in Austintown for esthetics, cosmetology and manicuring.

Rankin has Nelson sitting in on classes at the institute and she tries to make everything available to give Nelson an understanding of the field. They usually meet once a week.

Santucci said the program aims to expose the students to as much opportunity as possible so they become well-rounded in their skills and have an idea of where they want to direct their life.

Trafficante has scheduled college visits for the group to talk to those in their field and get an idea of how they want to continue their education beyond high school.

They also took a trip to a Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. The warden Chris LaRosa mentors a students in the Community Connectors. He invited the students to talk to those who work at the correctional center on a daily basis. LaRosa organized the day so that all mentees’ desired field of study was represented.

The students spoke positively about the mentor experience and exposure to opportunities. Detective Sergeant Kathy Dina mentors Kaylee Aliberti, a student interested in forensics. Alibrti said Dina showed her so many more possibilities in the field that interested her. Dina has taken Aliberti to labs and crime scenes, and they plan to visit the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The students whose mentors have not met with them have communicated and organized a plan for the future. For example, Caitlin Wagner’s mentor, Tina Saunders, plans to bring Wagner into Kent State University’s nursing school to introduce her to the different types of nursing she can do.

Marc Robenolt has spoken to his mentee, Nate Armstrong, about the steps he will need to take in the future to become a nurse. They also plan to have observations and an introduction to the work environment. Armstrong also said that working with Robenolt has allowed him to network and make connections in the field.

Regional Chamber received grant from the Ohio Department of Education to begin the program in the community. They started in three Youngstown high schools in 2015 and at Warren G. Harding High School in 2016. Last year, the program had 182 students between the four schools join the workforce.

The Community Connectors spread to Austintown Fitch in 2017. Superintendent Vincent Colaluca thanked the Regional Chamber for bringing the program to their school. The school received grant money to begin the program, but Colaluca is focused on finding finances to keep the program going at the school for the future, as he believes the program has a great impact.

Colaluca spoke positively about Trafficante and Mickey, saying they both have a wealth of life and real world experience to help the program run well. He said they are both driven to make the program great.

He believes that the program “works two-fold“ because it gives students a chance to work with businesses and groups in the community, but the community also gets a chance to meet the Fitch students.

Trafficante works closely with Jim Penk, junior principal at Fitch. Penk thanked Trafficante, Mickey and the mentors for making this program work so well for the students. He said the students at the school are hungry for knowledge and experience, and the school is fortunate to have the program.

Some of the students involved in the Community Connectors also participate in the school’s Future Business Leaders of America chapter. The FBLA students learn many experiences in creating portfolios and interviewing skills, so the chapter and the program work hand-in-hand. Many of the goals of FBLA and the Community Connectors overlap.

Both the mentors and mentees received a packet outlining the program’s goals for them. They also created their own personal goals to meet during the program. They both met together and scheduled times to meet and create shadowing and observation plans in the future.

Students can ask to join the program at any time. More information on the program can be found at http://www.communityconnectors.ohio.gov.

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