Community Career Night at Jordan-Matthews gives students ideas for the future

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SILER CITY — Jordan-Matthews High School junior Lewis Graham and his mother walk from table to table through the hallways inside Jordan-Matthews. They hear from business professionals, chefs, electricians and more at the Community Career Night hosted by Central Carolina Community College.

“This is filled with really interesting things I haven’t really thought about before,” Graham said. “Now I’m starting to see what kinds of opportunities there are and I feel like they’ll really help me.”

Graham said the May 3 event was eye-opening for him because prior to attending he didn’t know many of these fields were potential employment options for him. His mother, Patricia Graham, also said the event was a good opportunity to help him make career plans.

“I was really excited speaking with the people in charge of the programs,” she said. “They were very well versed in their field. That’s very encouraging as a parent because they can get my child to a bright future.”

The career night at Jordan-Matthews featured more than a dozen businesses and postsecondary educational opportunities. The event was created as a collaboration between the Chatham County Schools Career and Technical Education program (CTE) and Central Carolina Community College, Lee County Schools and Harnett County Schools. The joint effort is part of the “Central Carolina Connections” initiative.

“We have enjoyed a productive tri-county relationship for many years with CCCC in terms of our students accessing both college transfer and career/technical credential courses while still in high school,” said Dr. Kelly Batten, executive director of Chatham County’s CTE program.

Batten said he hopes the career night and other community events will increase economic prosperity among historically underserved populations. He said the program aims to achieve an increase of credential attainment for all students by 15% over the next 10 years. The career night at Jordan-Matthews on May 3 was one of the action steps utilized by the CTE program.

That 15% figure comes from a gap seen in underrepresented communities, especially Black and Latino students. Batten said he wants to improve participation in programs like CTE and dual enrollment to improve equity. He said ideally the demographics in those programs should reflect populations in the county, but CCCC is far from that goal.

Sara Newcomb, the project facilitator for Central Carolina Connections, said one of the biggest problems plaguing Chatham County education’s equity efforts is known as the attainment gap. The attainment gap refers to the gap in educational performance or achievement between different populations of students.

“Closing the gap on attainment creates more employment and postsecondary education opportunities for our community,” Newcomb said. “The gap represents the possibility for the economic health of our families.”

Newcomb said creating economic health and hitting some of the goals the organization has set for itself is a sign CCCC is connecting with families in a more tangible way. The career night at Jordan-Matthews reinforced that.

The event brought out students, parents and community members from across the county — and not just from Jordan-Matthews High School. Siler City resident José Lopez, 26, attended in an attempt to inform his community about further employment opportunities. Lopez is the program assistant for the Hispanic Liaison, which aims to empower Latino people in Siler City to overcome challenges. He said there are difficult obstacles for people in his community when it comes to employment.

“Many of our youth have financial hardships,” Lopez said. “This program is a way for them to overcome that through scholarships, apprenticeships and making networking connections.”

Lopez held a stack of flyers about various postsecondary programs and said he was impressed by opportunities like technician apprenticeships and industrial systems jobs, which he was previously unaware of. He said he plans to distribute the information to his students at their next gathering.

One of the people responsible for putting the whole night together was DeLisa Cohen, the curriculum and instruction management coordinator for Chatham County CTE programs. She said bringing together other educational stakeholders like parents and community members makes the impact of these events far greater.

“There’s so much more to CTE than there was in these parents’ days,” Cohen said. “CTE has really changed and we know parents are big influencers which is why we have to let them know about the work we are doing.”

Cohen said she has seen many examples of students utilizing the CTE curriculum to become successful. She said she believes the programs help young people develop the necessary work experience, soft skills and networking capabilities to have thriving careers.

“I want our community to know how impressive these kids are,” Cohen said. “The door is wide open for these kids if they know it’s there. That’s what this event is about: making the community aware of what CTE can do for the kids.”

This is the first of several community career nights. Cohen said she hopes to bring these events to high schools throughout the county to ensure all students are future ready.

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at or @b_rappaport.


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