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Some students in Northwest Indiana are getting an opportunity to work and get on-the-job training while still in high school, giving them invaluable experience and enabling them to move seamlessly from school to the workplace. 

Those students are getting that experience through their local school career center and career and technical classes within their school. Some school districts also have connected with local employers to give students an opportunity to intern at the company.

Hobart schools Superintendent Peggy Buffington said internships and work-based learning give students that incredible opportunity of on-the-job training.

"When you talk with students about their placements, they either love it or have determined they need a different career pathway that better suits them," she said.

"In addition, the employability skills and expectations are right there in front of the students. Everything we have been trying to teach in K-12 has to now be applied in the world of work. It is difficult to squeeze this experience into our students’ schedules, but the outcomes are far reaching for our students’ futures and is having an impact on the decisions they are making about their careers," she said.

The School City of Hobart has relationships with numerous employers in the area, and just won the inaugural School Counseling-Business Partnership of the Year award based on its relationship with St. Mary Medical Center. The recognition was developed by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation to highlight innovative approaches to college and career readiness.

Hobart High School senior Katelyn Knudson works for Hobart City Judge and attorney William Longer as an intern.

The teen sits in court with the judge and files paperwork for him.

Knudson said she's learning the intricacies of the law. She plans to major in politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

"I want to be an entertainment lawyer and work with musicians and professional athletes," she said. "This program helps people my age to know if it's really something they want to do. I find that I really enjoy it. It's interesting to see how he (Longer) reacts to the individuals in his courtroom. He loves his job and it's nice to see that too."

Ashley Thalmann graduated from Hebron High School in 2015. She is a second semester nursing student at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso.

Thalmann works two jobs, one at Kohl's and the other at Cedar Creek Health Campus as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Thalmann initially got her experience at the Porter County Career Center.

She is on track to graduate in December earning a Licensed Practical Nurse certification, and will continue on from there.

"My goal is to become a neonatal nurse in a large hospital and earn a master of science in nursing," she said. "Working with newborn patients is something I have a passion for and cannot wait to pursue. But there is no way I would be where I am today if it weren't for the career center.

"Without having attended the school, I can almost guarantee that I would not be working as a CNA today, and I might not be in nursing school," she said.

Washington Township High School graduate Alec Muha, 22, has been working at Solid Platforms Inc. in Portage since high school. He builds scaffolding.

Muha said he learned many skills at the Porter County Career Center, and that translated to his job. He said he was able to become a member of Local 1005 Carpenters Union in Hobart, gaining additional work experience. 

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"The career center helped me to get into the union, which helped me to start up my career," he said, adding he was in the construction technology program for a couple of years. 

"I would advise other kids to get into it because it gives them good skills and a good trade to learn outside of regular schooling to help them benefit their lives as they grow up and move on," Muha said.

The Porter County Career Center has relationships with numerous companies, including Urschel Laboratories in Chesterton.

Urschel plant manager Jason Martin said they've had a relationship with the Porter County Career Center for four or five years. The company also offers qualifying students an Urschel Next Generation Scholarship.

"The previous plant manager realized the difficulties in finding skilled labor and started talking to the people at the career center," Martin said. "We wanted to get high school students interested in a career here, get some experience and help them grow. It's worked out really well. We've gotten some really good students and permanent employees through the program."

Martin said the students get to see real-life manufacturing, get technical experience and understanding soft skills like being at work on time.

Porter County Career Center Principal/Director Jon Groth said they've worked really hard to build up relationships with local businesses to provide a clear path from school to college and careers for students.

"Our mission is to help kids find entry employment after high school," he said. "We work on it every day. The employers help us develop what we teach. They have input on our curriculum. We're excited about our work ethic and training and our technical certificate programs. We also do a substance-free pledge with all of our students and our employers like seeing that too."

At the Hammond Area Career Center, Principal/Director Scott Miller also has developed relationships with local employers.

Shawn Haugh, service manager at Bosak Honda in Highland, said they've had students job shadowing and interning there for at least 10 years.

"Some have graduated and remained with the company. It's been beneficial to both of us," he said.

Morton High School senior Felix Mendoza, Calumet High School senior Kyle Ashlock and Calumet New Tech junior Blake Stone were among nearly a dozen students from the Hammond Area Career Center job shadowing in February at Bosak Honda.

Ashlock is planning to attend UTI (Universal Technical Institute) in Illinois for additional technical training for the transportation industry. He's also already earned his ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certificate.

ASE is a nationally recognized certification that car repair facilities generally post at their facilities. It certifies that someone has demonstrated skills in eight different automotive areas.

Stone is a first-year student at the career center.

"Working with automobiles really grabbed my attention, and my family is kind of into cars, so I want to learn how to work on them," he said.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.