By Ruth Ann Replogle

Kids are often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

And thanks to Hennessey Public Schools’ new Eagle Works program, many students will now be able to confidently answer that question. 

“This will help them launch into their career,” said program director and internship coordinator Kim Hallmark. As school counselor, she has been teaching and guiding students in Oklahoma and Texas for over 30 years now, and she’s excited by what Eagle Works has to offer the local youth.

Hennessey Public Schools (HPS) wanted its students to be career ready; however, they didn’t want to do it using the traditional CareerTech system like other similarly-sized communities do. 

As previously reported by the Hennessey Post in February 2022, HPS had been operating under a gentlemen’s agreement made by former superintendent Mike Woods that allowed Hennessey students to attend Chisholm Trail Technology Center (CTTC) for the past four years at a reduced rate. 

But that ended, forcing HPS to consider joining a CareerTech district to continue sending students to CTTC, west of Kingfisher, or Autry Technology Center, Enid. In addition to that, CTTC had asked at that time to be withdrawn from consideration as a CareerTech partner for the Hennessey district, thus leaving Autry as the only choice. 

At the conclusion of that February meeting, HPS board members voted 3-2 against joining a CareerTech system. 

 “The board of education, administrators, teachers, and the community saw the need to help any and all of our students to become career-ready once they graduate. We knew we wanted to start something that we could provide on-campus at a much lower cost burden to our taxpayers than joining the CareerTech,” said HPS current superintendent Jason Sternberger. “We visited with different schools who had intern programs in place and started getting an idea of what we thought would work best for Hennessey.”

So how can Hennessey students reach their dreams without actually going to a vocational school?

They can enroll in Eagle Works.

Eagle Works is modeled after other state initiatives such as EHS Works in Enid and Pathways to Future Careers Internship in Duncan. Hallmark—who had previously utilized Junior Achievement USA (a nonprofit resource that empowers young people for success in their chosen career fields) in other schools and had worked alongside EHS Works’ program director Gabe Watts—was selected to spearhead Eagle Works.

“We knew she was the perfect person for this position,” Sternberger said.

The sole purpose of Eagle Works is to allow juniors and seniors to test-drive potential careers to see if that’s what they really want to do when they graduate. Eligible students are able to intern for companies and industries in the Hennessey area and get hands-on experience as they explore their chosen career path before spending time or money on college or trade courses.

When upcoming juniors and seniors began enrolling for the fall semester this past spring, they were able to mark on their forms if they were interested in taking the Eagle Works class for the 2022-23 school year. 

Hallmark explained Eagle Works’ unpaid internship is technically a class held during the seventh period (2-3 p.m.) of each school day. 

Before any student is paired with a local business, they must undergo six to nine weeks of soft skills training, such as workplace manners, cell phone etiquette, confidentiality, resume building, and more. 

“It covers everything to prep them before they go out,” Hallmark said. Once a student has taken the training and is paired with a local business, he or she and the business’ internship supervisor (usually the business owner) sign two forms: code of conduct and media release. 

In addition to their internship, HPS requires all Eagle Works students to take at least one career and technical education (CTE) course related to their chosen field from eDynamic Learning. 

Hallmark indicated there are more than 200 courses to choose from, and if they don’t know what field they want to be in, students can take the Career Discovery course instead. For each eDynamic Learning course a student completes, he or she receives an elective credit or even a core credit in some cases.

In fact, Hallmark said, a few students have signed up for Eagle Works just because they wanted to take eDynamic Learning courses. 

“The courses are time-consuming,” she said. Every course requires critical thinking and interactive assignments such as making a video and turning it in. The students can pursue their coursework during seventh period or on their own time like homework.

Unfortunately, there are some career fields that Hennessey students want to enter that simply are not included in the eDynamic Learning course selection, Hallmark said, such as construction, automotive mechanics, and welding; so she’s been developing workarounds for them.

“We’re going to make it work. We have those students placed with mentors that will help them get into that field,” Hallmark said, adding the mentors have already offered resources to help those students achieve necessary training or certifications.

For the 2022 fall semester, Eagle Works has 15 students enrolled and seven local business partners in addition to Hennessey Public Schools, which alone has five of the students interning as “aides” in areas such as information technology, nursing, criminal justice (HPD resource officer), and early childhood. 

There are several more local businesses that are willing, Hallmark said, but no matches yet; that said, many more students have expressed interest in enrolling for the spring semester. 

However, not everyone who wants to be in Eagle Works can, Hallmark said. “They have to be on track to graduate. They can’t be behind.” 

She strongly encouraged any eighth graders or freshmen interested in interning their junior or senior years to get their electives out of the way so they can do this, and the earlier the better.

“They can’t be in danger of not graduating,” Hallmark emphasized. 

She is ecstatic that Eagle Works has been so successful in its first year.

As a Hennessey native, Hallmark said she had “the best time” re-connecting with all the businesses she approached to partner with Eagle Works. 

“They all said ‘yes,’” she said, including Triple M Transportation and Energy Meter Systems.

Since Hennessey student Ivan Rivera had a desire to go into diesel mechanics, Hallmark approached Mike Vaverka, owner of Triple M, and he agreed to take Rivera under his wing and show him how.  “I just wanted to help give kids the opportunity to learn a trade,” Vaverka said, adding he is impressed with Rivera’s interest. Vaverka said Triple M is glad to be part of Eagle Works and to help make a difference.

Molly Ryel, operations manager at Energy Meter Systems, concurred.

“It’s awesome to give these kids the opportunity,” she said. “What Kim [Hallmark] has brought to the table is amazing.”

Hallmark approached Ryel about allowing Carlos Granados to intern since he had a desire to go into welding. Within days, Ryel was so blown away with how eager Granados was to learn and how good he was, that she hired him. He does his internship duties from 2-3 p.m. and does his paid duties after class and on the weekends.

That some businesses like Energy Meter Systems want to keep the student on after the internship thrills Hallmark. “We couldn’t do this without them,” she said.  And that pleases Hennessey Public Schools too.

“We wanted to offer our students the opportunity to gain a knowledge of different career paths prior to graduation. So many times when young people graduate high school, they plan to go to work or college, but don’t really have an idea of what exactly they want to do. Our goal is to help that process, but also to train and retain local talent to stay in the area and help the community,” Sternberger said.

Ryel said she loves that Eagle Works “keeps kids local. It’s what Hennessey needs.”

If your business is interested in partnering with Eagle Works for an internship, call (405) 853-4732.