Out of the classroom and into the workforce.

Out of the classroom and into the workforce.

Last week, 13 students from Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School’s High School High Tech program spent an afternoon job shadowing at various businesses.

The HSHT program is focused on empowering special needs students ages 14-22 and preparing them for life after high school, whether it that includes post-secondary education, employment or community involvement.

 Through the program, students experience real-world training to help them make the connection between academic learning and the workforce.

Students were able to choose businesses to shadow that included Dockside Seafood and Raw Bar, the Port St. Joe Police Department, Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf, Port St. Joe Marina, the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve, Fairpoint and Cooper’s Cut and Style.

Over at the police department, student Howard Townsend was spending the day with Officer Vince Everett.

Townsend said he chose to shadow at the police department to get a better understanding of what local law enforcement does in order to see if it’s a career he may be interested in pursuing.

“I’m going to give him an idea of what we do,” said Everett. “We’re going to head out on patrol to see what’s going on and be seen in the community.

“It’s a random patrol, but we’ll be ready if something jumps out.”

It was a busy day for juniors John Keigans and Jak Riley who spent the day shadowing dockhand Haleigh McDaniel at the Port St. Joe Marina.

McDaniel said that a dockhand needs to do whatever’s necessary to ensure the marina looks good and the students had already emptied all trash containers on the property, swept restrooms and checked the breakers.

Throughout the day they performed general maintenance, assist marina patrons learn how to tie up a boat and the protocols for proper fueling.

“I came here last year because I wanted to try something new,” said Keigans. “All of the people are really nice and I enjoy seeing the marine animals.”

Keigan got a good look at some marine life when he spotted a deceased fish in the basin and did what any dockhand must do: he fished it out and disposed of it.

“I hope it gives (the students) insight and shows them what’s out there in the way of jobs,” said McDaniel. “It’s an opportunity for them to consider what they want to do.”

Marina manager Clara Landry applauded the HSHT program.

She said that when Keigan shadowed last year he was quiet and reserved, but by the end of the experience he had come out of his shell and seemed thrilled to be back this year.

“It’s fun for the students and it’s something different,” said Landry. “They get to communicate with people outside of their regular social circle.”

Landry encouraged all local businesses to get involved in order to give more opportunities to the HSHT students and expose them to something new.

“It’s good for them, but it’s also good for us,” said Landry, thankful for the additional help during a busy spring day. “The students are proud of the work they do.”

After a hard day on the job, students were treated to lunch at Sunset Coastal Grill.

The High School High Tech program, founded in 1986, was developed by business professionals and community leaders to work with special needs students to reduce high school dropout rates and improved employment rates in technology related fields.

HSHT operates from an Able Trust grant and the Florida Department of Vocational Rehabilitation program.

“The day was just amazing,” said program coordinator Melissa Behee. “The mentors were pleasantly surprised by the intelligence and aptitude of these students.”