PCHS senior places first in state career conference

Phil Campbell High School senior Jonah Walker, a member of the school’s Jobs for Alabama Graduates class, put his skills to the test recently and showed his hard work is paying off.

The district conference Feb. 7 marked Walker’s first time to compete in a career development conference, and while he said he was “really nervous” at both the district and the subsequent state conference, he wound up having “a really good time.” He placed first in the employability skills contest at the state JAG career development conference March 7 in Birmingham, qualifying him to attend the national conference April 20-22 in Orlando.

“The end result was worth the little bit of nerves I had to go through,” Walker said. “When I started talking, the stress wasn’t as bad. I was surprised to win, especially at state, which was a little more difficult than district.”

Walker said he learned that it’s “very important to learn to talk to people, to do well at interviews and develop better communication skills” to get the jobs needed to achieve his goals.

“If you had asked me when I was competing at district if I would make it to nationals, I would have called you crazy,” he added. “I’m very excited, and I feel pretty confident. I’ve been preparing by going over possible interview questions and practicing my skills for talking one-on-one.”

PCHS JAG sponsor Tina King said she’s “always proud” of her students participating in the conferences, especially those who compete.

“Regardless of the results, I commend all the competitors,” King said. “They really put forth a lot of effort preparing and often take a giant leap out of their comfort zones.”

She said Walker had made up his mind to compete in the public speaking category earlier this year but changed his mind after she asked whether he would consider competing in employability skills instead.

“He hesitated but eventually agreed,” King said. “Looking back on that now, I believe I can safely say we are both glad he did because he will now get to compete at the national level.”

King said she was able to attend the kickoff for the national conference this past year in Dallas, but this will be the first time for her students to have the chance to go. It’s an experience she is eager for them to have, with speakers, activities and training featuring, in addition to the competition and award session. Five PCHS JAG students are hoping to attending the conference.

“In addition to competitive events, there will be educational workshops and career and college expos,” King explained. “It’s a great opportunity for our students – and for our seniors, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’re hoping the individuals and businesses in the community will consider helping by making donations so the students will be able to afford this special experience.”

For the state conference, Marlena Mather, PCHS substitute and Bobcat parent, attended as a chaperone.

“I think the students had fun and learned a lot, and I really enjoyed watching their teamwork, seeing how much they supported each other,” she said. “When Jonah won, they were all so excited.”

Mather said during the time some students were competing, two guest speakers addressed other students, talking about careers and life skills.

“The speakers were very interactive with the kids, and the students had a good time with it,” she added. “I’m very proud of them.”

PCHS JAG ninth-grader Brooklynn Adams also attended the district and state conferences this year. Looking toward a future career, she said she has her sights set on being a psychologist, running her own business, with a focus in teen therapy, especially suicide. She said she wants to travel to schools as a public speaker.

“Through the conferences, I learned how to have better people skills, gained confidence and became more outgoing,” Adams said. “I absolutely loved getting to go and spending time with friends, as well as meeting new people.” She said the conferences were “a great opportunity to break out of our shells and improve public speaking skills.”

Eleventh-grade PCHS JAG student Justin Wade participated in the workshops, and he said he learned “a lot more about communication skills and making connections.”

“Making connections is really good for hooking you up with jobs and careers. We participated along with other JAG members on working together, and it was good practice,” Wade said. “Working well with people you haven’t met before is useful.

“I think I would like to compete next year,” he added.

For PCHS senior JAG student, Hunter Potts, who also participated in the workshops, it was an experience he said helped with “getting out of your comfort zone.”

“I learned a lot of communication skills,” he added, “including about what’s involved in being a leader or a follower.”

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