With the smell of barbecue permeating the hallways of Amherst County High School, dozens of families took part in the first “Roadmap for Your Future Expo,” an event designed to connect students with opportunities in areas of business, higher education and the military, on the evening of Nov. 19.

More than a dozen local businesses, more than a handful of area colleges and several military branches were on hand to speak with students and give them information about opportunities they can consider upon leaving high school. The Amherst County Sheriff’s Office and Amherst County Public Safety also took part in the event and spoke to students interested in emergency services and law enforcement.

Amherst County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Arnold told gatherers for 25 years they’ve likely been bombarded with a perceived mindset a test given annually in May determines if schools and students are successful. While the school system has been fully accredited the past two years and has done a great job in improving its state benchmarks in testing, Arnold said, he pointed to educators getting students prepared for life after graduation as the true measure of success.

“We want to be judged by whether or not our students are going out after graduation and getting jobs, being successful in college, being taxpaying citizens, those are the things we want to want to be judged on,” Arnold said. He also debunked a perceived mindset every student should immediately enroll in a four-year college.

“There are a lot of different avenues to be successful when you leave high school,” Arnold said.

Amherst school officials have given much attention in recent years to enhancing offerings in career and technical education to provide students with skills and helping them immediately enter the workforce. Arnold said the division has lots of programs residents may not be aware of to get students prepared for jobs and military service.

The event also was designed to get middle school students thinking about their career and educational opportunities.

“This is a unique opportunity here in Amherst to learn about the things that are available to you,” Arnold told students and families gathered.

He said the industries, colleges and military branches are stakeholders that want to see Amherst County flourish. “... They understand that it starts with you guys here tonight,” Arnold said. “That’s why they’re here dedicating their time.”

Students had a plentiful choice of booths to visit with representatives. Gatherers were treated to a free plate of barbecue and baked beans prepared by the high school’s culinary class.

Jacob Campbell, an Amherst Middle School student, was among those who came and stopped by the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office booth. He said the areas of law enforcement and the military greatly interest him for a career.

His mother, Susan Campbell, said the expo was a great idea and she’s glad to take part. “It gives them an idea what they want to do,” she said.

Chase Massie, a sophomore at the high school, spoke with representatives of BWX Technologies and said he is involved in the school’s welding program. He said he’s learned a lot of skills through the program and he could see himself in that type of career.

Wayne Massie, his father, said having so many entities under one roof is beneficial for the Amherst community’s youth.

“I’m glad they’re doing it,” Wayne Massie said. “It gives them a great opportunity to see what’s out there.”

Arnold encouraged students to plan for the future and not wait.

“I want you to understand while it may feel like you’re too young to think about the next 60 years of your life, it comes quickly,” Arnold said. “And so you need to be ready for that.”

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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