Okaloosa seniors commit to colleges, technical schools on Career and College Signing Day

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — About 120 highly-skilled high school seniors who help represent the near-future workforce climbed the steps onto the Crestview Community Center stage on Wednesday morning while moving a little closer toward fulfilling some of their biggest dreams.

They soon will graduate from Baker High School, Choctawhatchee High School, Crestview High School, Fort Walton Beach High School, Laurel Hill School or Niceville High School. At the community center, each senior was celebrated during the third annual Career and College Signing Day hosted by the Okaloosa County School District’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department.

“We are here to recognize and celebrate the decisions of these young people: A decision to be committed to a career and to their futures,” April Branscome, the district’s CTE program director, said at the start of the Signing Day ceremony. “These seniors have chosen to enter a pathway leading into a program that’s in demand, that go directly from high school to the workforce, that go directly from high school to college, to a technical college, even to the military. So all the life choices that you’re making today start now, and your future looks bright.”

'Time for actually learning':DeSantis visits NWFL school to celebrate dumping standardized tests

STEM professionals unite: One Okaloosa, TeCMEN to host 5th annual Industry Day

Military pay in NWFL:Okaloosa’s military payroll is largest in Florida. Here’s what that means for the economy

Students from Choctawhatchee High School pose for a picture with staff and school administrators during a signing day Wednesday for the students in the Okaloosa County School District's Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

Just like student-athletes who are highlighted for being awarded athletic scholarships, the CTE students should be recognized and celebrated and have their own signing day, Branscome said.

Each student signed an agreement Wednesday that read in part, “I have gained the necessary skill through my CTE Program that puts me on a path to success while helping others to address the urgent need for skilled employees in high-skilled, high-demand industries. The Okaloosa County School District provided me with the opportunity to learn a valuable skill that will lead me to secure gainful employment and allow me to lead a productive, fulfilling life.”

By signing the agreement, each student confirmed his or her commitment to “continuing on the path of success by deciding to pursue a career field that will allow me to gain real-world skills in order to compete in the future workforce. This agreement solidifies the opportunity provided to me in order to progress to the next level of my career journey. With this in mind, I have made a decision to continue my education or my career at a particular institute or company.”

Such institutes and companies include Okaloosa Technical College, Northwest Florida State College, the University of West Florida, the Air Force, the Army, the Marine Corps, the Navy, One Hour A/C & Heating, Gary’s Auto Recycling and Days Tire Pro.

Crestview High School students (left to right) Ming Liu, Thomas Guillen and Rodney Butler pose for a selfie photo during a signing day ceremony Wednesday at the Crestview Community Center for students in the Okaloosa County School District's Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

While more than 250 students in high schools in Okaloosa County were eligible to participate in Wednesday’s signing day, many of them reportedly did not reserve a spot at the ceremony.

The School District has more than 24 CTE programs, District Superintendent Marcus Chambers said during the ceremony. They include advanced manufacturing, applied cybersecurity, applied robotics, automotive, biomedical science, construction trades, cosmetology, criminal justice operations, culinary arts and digital design.

“Some of you are in multiple (CTE) programs,” Chambers told the students. “And you think about the experience that you’re getting. Many adults in this room right now, when we think back to when we were in high school, we did not have those opportunities.”

He said the Career and College Signing Day represents “a big deal for Okaloosa County: Celebrating our students for academics and for the skills that you learn in your CTE programs that are second to none.”   

Nathan Sparks, executive director of the One Okaloosa Economic Development Council, told the students that the EDC represents more than 150 companies “that would love to have you.”

Okaloosa County’s 2.5% unemployment rate is the second lowest in Florida, Sparks said.

“What that means is that most people that want a job have a job, but a lot of the employers are looking,” he said. “I think you have probably all seen the ‘help wanted’ signs in windows of businesses, in businesses of all shapes and sizes. It’s businesses in hospitality, it’s businesses in manufacturing, it’s businesses that are doing defense contracting. You name it, there are opportunities out there.

“When I looked at the list when I came in this morning and I saw all the things that you have committed to for your futures, they line up perfectly with the needs of this community," Sparks added. "And they line up perfectly with the needs of the employers (in fields such as alternative energy, manufacturing, logistics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity) we’re talking to about coming to this community.”