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Teens explore career paths

By The Republican Newsroom

AGAWAM – For Erika N. Lamagdeleine, 13, getting a chance to see the inner workings of Dave’s Soda and Pet City on Springfield Street was more than just an enjoyable school outing.

“I think that this is cool, because I want to become a veterinarian, so I think this will help me,” Lamagdeleine said Wednesday, as she and 17 other seventh-graders from Agawam Junior High School toured Dave’s as part of a career day event sponsored by the West of the River Chamber of Commerce.

The group that toured Dave’s was one of 18 groups that participated Wednesday, with 16 area businesses – primarily in Agawam and West Springfield, the two communities represented by the Chamber of Commerce – volunteering to host similar groups. The Agawam Fire Department and the offices in City Hall also participated. Approximately 350 seventh-graders took part.

Faith M. LaBonte, 12, likes to draw and thinks she might want to be a cartoonist someday, but Dave’s held an interest for her as well.

“I like dogs a lot, (and here) you get to see the parrots, and how they train the dogs,” LaBonte said, as she and the others watched Westfield dog trainer Donna J. Blews and dog owner Janice L. Bovat of Agawam put Bovat’s 18-month-old Shetland sheepdog Rylee through his paces.

“It takes about three years before you can get the dog trained really good for the shows,” Blews told the students.

The seventh-graders appeared riveted to the exhibition until Dave’s owner David A. Ratner prefaced the next feature of his store by saying, “All right, who wants to go hold some snakes?”

By the time the tour ended Wednesday morning, the students had been introduced to a variety of dogs, cats, fish, reptiles and birds, including Dave’s mascot macaw, “Zoey Ratner.”

“This is the first event of this kind in the Agawam schools,” said Alan P. Rogers, chairman of the chamber’s Education Committee. “It shows them what kind of companies are here in Agawam, and what they make.”

Rogers said the experience might make the students think, “Maybe I’ll stay in Agawam. Maybe I’ll work here. Maybe I’ll raise my family here.”

In addition, he said, it’s important that local businesses and industries get recognition for their presence in the community. “They’re important to the community,” he said, “and it’s important that people know they’re here and what they do.”

The Chamber of Commerce is in its third year of sponsoring a program that brings business leaders and others into the junior high school to meet with eighth-graders, but this is the first year the seventh-graders have gone out to visit the businesses, Rogers said. The chamber covered the cost of transportation, he said.

Debbie Hunter, the career services coordinator at Agawam High School, was a key organizer of Wednesday’s event.

Teacher Cecilia S. Gintowt, who helped escort the seventh-graders visiting Dave’s, said, “I think it’s wonderful for the students to start thinking about careers, and they’re also looking at what Agawam has to offer.”

The feeling is mutual, Ratner said. “We love doing this,” he said. “What a local business does that a chain store doesn’t do, a local store has to be involved in the community, and this is the perfect way to be involved with the community.

“And I guarantee you,” Ratner added, “at least one of these kids will wind up working in the store.”

Director of Planning and Community Development Deborah S. Dachos, conducted a tour of City Hall for 20 seventh-graders Wednesday.

The students pulled up property cards for their homes on the computers in the assessors office.

City Clerk Richard M. Theroux said, “I (told them) I hoped to see them when they turned 18, so they could register to vote.”

The tour posed for a group photograph in the office of Mayor Susan R. Dawson, who, along with state Rep. Rosemary Sandlin, D-Agawam, and chamber and school officials, addressed the seventh-graders at the junior high school before their tours.

“It’s very, very important (for) young people to understand what’s going on out here in the world,” Dawson said. “This provides the opportunity for our kids to go out and see these things firsthand. It’s awesome.”

Agawam Junior High School principal Norman C. Robbins said he hopes the career day becomes an annual event. “It’s never too early to start thinking about future careers and future interests,” he said.

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Posted in Articles, Retail on December 7, 2008 by Dave Ratner.
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