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December 5, 2017

Rutherford County Schools

Gina Sipple knows there is more than one way to skin a cat. 


As a health sciences teacher at Smyrna High School, one of the projects her students complete each year is the dissection of a cat to learn about anatomy. 

“When you’re learning about anatomy, you’re really learning about yourself,” Sipple said. 

Sipple delivered this message last week to a group of eighth-graders at Smyrna Middle School. She — along with Smyrna High School clinical nursing students Gracie Haddock, Jazmyne Maniphonh and registered nurse Nicole Sigears — came to the school to participate in the “Eighth-Grade Career Pathway Fair.”

The event was billed as a way to let eighth-graders learn about the career courses offered at high schools, and more importantly, to show students which types of careers are products of those courses.

The pathway fairs — which started three years ago — are a joint project between Rutherford County Schools and the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce as part of their efforts to produce workforce-ready students after high school. 

“They need to have a good foundation leaving middle school to make good decisions when they are choosing classes for high school,” Smyrna Middle School Principal Steve Luker said.  

Various Rutherford County middle schools have participated in the past, but the first time, all middle schools signed on for this year’s the pathway fairs, which started in November and will wrap up later this week. 

“Principals started seeing the value in it from the other schools,’ said Trisha Murphy, who works for the Chamber’s “Rutherford Works” initiative and oversees the pathway fair events. “Many of the schools were already doing a career day activity on their own, and so the Chamber involvement has been very helpful.”

For each pathway fair event, the Chamber organizes professionals from local companies and teams them with a high school teacher and high school students for each of the career pathway options available at feeder high schools. 

At Smyrna Middle School’s event, for example, the event included Sigears — who is a registered nurse working at StoneCrest Medical Center — along with the two high school students in the program and Sipple, as the high school teacher representative. 

Other companies who participated in Smyrna Middle School’s event included Beesley Animal Foundation, Auto Art Body Shop, FirstBank, Bridgestone and John Jones Realty, just to name a few. 

Nurse Sigears told the students about the variety of careers available in the health care industry, ranging from engineers to those who work directly with patients. 

“I’ve been a nurse for 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of jobs being a nurse,” said Sigears, who also used to teach at Smyrna High School. 

Sipple agreed: “There’s a lot of pathways, there’s lots of ways to get into the medical industry. It’s wide open.”

Students who participate in the pathway fair must select the sessions they wanted to attend, and then are given career pathway maps to take home and discuss with their parents. Then as a family, they can decide which career courses the student should pursue when entering high school. 

Eighth-grader Georgia Charlton hasn’t settled on exactly which career pathway to pursue, but she is intrigued by the health care industry because of the opportunity to help others. 

“We’ve had stuff in our family and I’m grateful for those people,” she said about EMTs and others in the medical professional. “I want to help people and do something in return.” 

Another advantage of students taking career courses while in high school is it allows them to explore potential career interests before committing to them at the college level, which can be expensive, Sipple said. Students may attempt a career pathway only to discover they really aren’t as interested as they originally thought, she explained.  

“If you’ve come to that conclusion, what have you done? You didn’t spend four years wasting mom and dad’s money. It helps you to decide,“ Sipple said. 

For more information about the 8th Grade Career Pathway Fairs, contact Trisha Murphy at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce at 615-278-2326.



Smyrna High School clinical nursing students Gracie Haddock, right, and Jazmyne Maniphonh talk to eighth-graders at Smyrna Middle School about the health science career pathway courses offered at the high school. 


Trisha Murphy with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce's Rutherford Works program talks to eighth-graders at Smyrna Middle School about the career pathway fair.


Smyrna High School chef and teacher Alberto Villalobos talks to Smyrna Middle eighth-graders about the culinary arts career program offered at the high school.


Smyrna High School health sciences teacher Gina Sipple tells students that there are many career options available to enter the health care industry. 


Smyrna High School student Bailey Woodall hands out slips of papers for Smyrna Middle School students to use during an exercise during the 8th grade pathway fair.