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Wake Forest Youth Connect convenes for annual event

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Wake Forest “Youth Connect” is an annual event introducing 100 eighth, ninth- and 10th-graders from five Wake Forest area high schools and middle schools to downtown Wake Forest.

On Dec. 3, they had an experiential learning opportunity to visit four downtown sites to meet with town leaders and professionals, business owners, and community volunteers to learn the many facets of running a town and how government functions, from the perspective of the mayor, town manager, downtown executive director, and communications and public affairs director.

After a panel discussion, the students broke up into groups to either design their own town with a new attraction for teenagers or to list events they would like to see in Wake Forest.

Upstairs at The Cotton Company, Jennifer Gaston showed a PowerPoint presentation on economic development and explained her role to promote Wake Forest to future companies who might want to relocate to this area as well as helping foster growth for start-ups and growing businesses. Then, the students’ activity was to look at a fictional company that had to decide on a property for their business. The students collaborated in groups to choose the one property in Wake Forest that would meet the needs of that company and explained their rationale for that choice.

At the third rotation at Wake Electric, the business owner of Code Ninja, Andrea Dabal, presented the ways computer coding and software development could be transferred to many types of industries and listed the many types of careers the students could have as a future STEM career goal involving coding and computer science. She also emphasized the four skills needed for future careers: computer skills, communication/empathy skills, creativity, and love of learning. The students had fun with their hands-on activity on video games learning about the logistics of creating these games and then had a “Kahoot” online quiz.

The last rotation at the Renaissance Center had a panel of professionals discussing the “art” of their profession: Dancer Masha Maddox, who founded the Wake Forest Dance Festival at Joyner Park, architect Matt Hale, United Arts Council Director Pam Stevens, and educator Elizabeth Hayes, Wake Forest High Business Alliance and former theater major. They shared their experiences in their professions utilizing creativity, in which there is “art” in practically every profession involving design and creativity, and they spoke of how they began in their creative career path. The video was then shown of a professional dancer visiting a Paris modern art museum which illustrated how he saw everything as art (walking up an escalator, dancing and tapping his feet).

These schools, Wake Forest High, Heritage High, Heritage Middle, Wakefield High, and Wakefield Middle are members of NERBA, the Northeastern Regional Business Alliance, which seeks through the career development coordinators at each of the schools to promote work-based learning and career development activities through business partnerships with these schools.

Local businesses participate by being classroom career speakers, having interns, inviting students to job shadow, and also volunteer to help students with resume writing, mock interviewing, as well as participating in college and career fairs at the schools with a booth of their business or university (college admissions).

The next major event in Wake Forest is scheduled for March 13, which will be a student-led leadership conference. The community is invited to come to the next meeting in January to continue to plan for the event. It will be held Jan. 28 from 8-9:15 a.m. at the Heritage Golf Club Restaurant.