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Academies of Lexington freshmen try on different hats at Career Expo

The Academies of Lexington Career Expo brought some 1,500 freshmen from the three participating high schools to the Lexington Convention Center to learn about myriad job options by talking with local business professionals and engaging through interactive exhibits. “It’s important for our students to see those practitioners in the field, the latest technology, and the latest research, and it raises their expectations of what is possible in their future,” said Manny Caulk, superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools. 

The students gathered Nov. 5 in the larger venue rather than a school gym thanks to the generosity of expo sponsor Lexmark International, which recently donated $150,000 to the academies. These small learning communities within Fayette County’s public high schools, in concert with Commerce Lexington’s Business and Education Network, enable and equip students to connect classroom learning with real-world applications. “Community is one of our core values, and our philanthropic focus is education. The Academies of Lexington is a great fit,” said Sheri Depp, Lexmark’s local director of Human Resources. 

Lexmark’s latest contribution will also finance the academies’ new Summer Teacher Externship Program, during which teams of educators will spend part of their summer in 2019 and 2020 working with and learning from professionals in industries aligned to their school’s career academies. In addition, Lexmark’s support will make it possible for additional students to participate in work-based learning experience by helping alleviate transportation barriers.   

The 2018 Career Expo featured more than four dozen business partners introducing students to potential job paths. Among them was LBX, maker of Link-Belt excavators, with heavy construction equipment on site for the teens to explore. Company representative Lisa Bemis said the LBX footprint is broader than students might think, noting, “We also have engineering and IT, so we need to let the kids know of the opportunities.” 

The expo, held in Heritage Hall West, divided businesses into color-coded quadrants: green for engineering, manufacturing, and skilled trades; red for medical and health sciences; yellow for information technology; and blue for professional and public services. The high school groups spent about 20 minutes in each area before rotating to the next, and the schools’ arrivals were staggered. Shelley Roberts of Grassroots Pharmacy in Hamburg appreciated the chance to connect directly with students. “I like educating them about pharmacy, seeing the kids come through and asking questions. It’s good exposure before they choose a college major,” she said. 

Industries represented included manufacturing, engineering, information technology, media arts, medical and health sciences, law enforcement, construction and other skilled trades, fire and emergency services, hospitality, and professional business services. “We’re looking and paying attention (to all the exhibitors) because you never know – you might change your mind,” said Layce Sanner, a freshman at Frederick Douglass High School who is leaning toward her school’s Academy of Health Sciences. 

Lexmark will also sponsor the 2019 expo, which is part of the Freshman Academy experience at Bryan Station, Frederick Douglass, and Tates Creek high schools. Deja Baker, a junior at Bryan Station, was among upperclassmen serving as ambassadors at this fall’s event. Deja, who is in the graphic design pathway of her school’s IT Academy, said the expo makes a bolder impression than schools’ individual career fairs and better engages the ninth-graders. “It can help them start thinking of what track they want to get on and gives them a really good idea of what they want to do,” she said. 

The backstory: The Academies of Lexington is a partnership among three Fayette County high schools, Commerce Lexington’s Business and Education Network, and business/community supporters. The career academy model helps prepare all students for life after high school by combining the academic rigor of college preparatory programs with the relevance of career-focused education. Specific areas of study range from Design and Engineering to Manufacturing and Robotics to Health Sciences. For more details, visit



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