Students and school leaders kicked off Brainerd High School's new Future Ready Institutes Wednesday with lights, sirens and drones.
The school launched two institutes this fall - part of the Hamilton County Schools' massive effort to embed small learning communities focused around industry themes at traditional high schools. The Institute of Aviation and The Institute of Law, First Responders and Forensic Science join a career academy focused on entrepreneurship offering a variety of real-life, work-based options to students.
"Exposure for our kids is a major thing. To have someone come in and tell them this is what we're talking about, for them to see different opportunities, it brings that real-life experience," said Christopher James, principal of Brainerd High. "We talk to them about the community they're growing up in, and what we fail to do sometimes is say, "You can do this."
Dozens of professionals from law enforcement, health care, aviation and other industries visited classrooms to talk with students about their careers, as well as to hear from Brainerd High students.
Demonte Crayton, a senior at the school, is taking an automotive mechanics class through the aviation institute.
The school is hoping to add aviation mechanics to the curriculum, but Crayton has already learned how to replace air conditioning, computers and wheels on vehicles.
He said his favorite part of the day is when he and his classmates "go outside to the shop."
His teacher, David Bennett, the school's automotive instructor, said some of his most successful students are the ones who didn't do well sitting at desks in English or math classrooms.
"We're learning by doing and we're moving around and doing stuff," Bennett said. "A lot of [students] go out to the shop and find themselves."
Bennett, Crayton and his classmates met with three crew members of Erlanger Health System's Life Force team.
Robin House, who was first a paramedic and is now a flight nurse on the helicopter, treats the critical patients the helicopter delivers to Erlanger. She encouraged students to do well in classes now if they want to follow a career path such as hers in nursing or health care.
"All that stuff you think you will never use, you will use it again. Math, science," House said. "If there's something you're interested in, shadow someone or try to see somebody that's got a job you think you want to do."
In March, Hamilton County Schools unveiled the new initiative, which is aimed at better preparing students for college and careers after high school.
In 2015, a Chattanooga 2.0 report found that around 15,000 jobs in the county were not being filled by Hamilton County residents based on education requirements alone.
Students in each institute are able to take career and technical education courses, earn industry credentials, take dual enrollment classes and also have opportunities for job shadowing, mentoring and even possible internships with business partners.
Brainerd High's kickoff event was aimed at getting students as hyped up about those new opportunities as their teachers and administrators are.
"What we really wanted to do is showcase all the experiences and opportunities available for our students," said Jeanette Tippett, the school's Future Ready Institute coordinator.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.