Bonsack Elementary helps students answer, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’

By Debbie Adams

Bonsack Elementary School gave its students some choices for the age-old question children that age frequently hear– “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with Career Day on March 12. The event was organized by school counselor Felicia Hinkley, who brought in 20 speakers from the community to share with students what they spend their work lives doing.

“Career Day is not a specific SOL objective, but Career Exploration is a Virginia counseling standard,” Hinkley said. “Prior to Career Day, I have been teaching about personal interest, skills and exploring different careers in my classroom counseling lessons with all the students. Kindergarten teachers teach some lessons about community helpers.”

All of the speakers were somehow connected to the school. Most of them were parents of students, except for Alex Wertz, Bonsack’s School Resource Officer; Donna and Tyler Palmer, who have Bonsack students who attend their Excel Martial Arts Studio; and Liberty University Chief of Police Rich Hinkley and his wife and bakery owner Glenda, who happen to be Felicia Hinkley’s mother- and father-in-law.

Career Day speakers in addition to the Hinkleys, the Palmers, and Wertz, included registered nurses Jessica Flanagan, Erin Janney, and Susan Benson, graphic designer Eric Parton, paramedic and firefighter Grey Smith, pilot Chris Gonzalez, Vice President of Accounting at Carilion Matt Barr, bank manager Raf Hurt, Physician Assistant Matt Schneider, Vice President of Growth Corey Payne, golf superintendent Mark Madonna, HR consultant Jacqueline DeMarco, Vice President of Banking Tracy Shanks, attorney David Robinson, Natalie Sigmon from The Bank of Fincastle HR, and yoga instructor Erica Austin.

“In January, I sent a letter home to all parents asking for parent volunteers to attend and speak to students about their chosen career,” Hinkley said. “The variety of careers was all by chance and luck.”

Speakers were assigned to a classroom and the students in each grade level rotated to the different classrooms to hear their 30-minute presentations. Kindergarten/Pre-K welcomed three speakers; students in grades one through five were treated to four speakers. Each speaker presented to three or four groups between 8:00 and 10:30 a.m. Students were also encouraged to dress up as their future or favorite career that day.

Rich Hinkley started off the morning in Suzanne Witcher’s fifth grade classroom. He described to students his duties and typical day as Chief of Police at Liberty University and also as a co-owner, with his wife Glenda, of Chestnut Hill Bakery in Lynchburg.

Rich Hinkley, Liberty University Chief of Police (photos by Debbie Adams)

He demonstrated protective gear he was wearing or carries in his car and some of the equipment he uses in his job, including an automated external defibrillator (AED) for use with victims of cardiac arrest.

He spends some of his time planning special events at Liberty, such as a visit from Tim Tebow, and less excitingly – lots of computer time writing reports, and checking reports completed by his officers. He emphasized the need for good writing and communication skills in his line of work. He also explained the comprehensive training necessary for his position.

He also talked with students about many recent planning sessions at Liberty concerning the coronavirus.

Hinkley then explained that after his day is done as a law enforcement officer, he trades in his uniform for an apron as he makes cakes, cupcakes, pies, donuts, cookies, honey buns, and cream puffs at Chestnut Hill Bakery. He and his wife bought the bakery (established in 1968) in 2011. His wife started out baking cakes out of their home when she was a teacher.

In a question and answer period, students asked Hinkley about the huge set of keys he carried which he explained fit some 120 buildings on the Liberty University campus. Several asked about guns, which led him to talk about an air rifle he uses to discourage pigeons in the football stadium.

Karate instructor Tyler Palmer told students that he had been doing karate for over 40 years (since 1979) and promised them a mini-karate lesson at the end of his presentation. He emphasized continuing to learn throughout life – he still takes karate classes to this day. He earned his 1st Degree Black Belt in 1993 and has advanced to 6th Degree Black Belt, working towards his Grand Master status.

Karate instructor Tyler Palmer who owns Excel Martial Arts with wife Donna.

He also talked about the importance of persevering in whatever you attempt to do.

He surprisingly connected karate and math – talking about angles and problem solving– along with communication skills.

Glenda Hinkley shared with students that she was a teacher for 35 years before becoming a baker – back when there were chalkboards and not Smartboards. She taught all subject areas but spent much of her time with the students on Career Day connecting math and baking – especially fractions.

Chestnut Hill Bakery owner Glenda Hinkley who owns and operates the bakery with her husband Rich.

She displayed full sheet pans, half sheet pans, and quarter sheet pans, and asked students to do some multiplication and division to determine how the pans were interchangeable. She threw in a little science, discussing the temperature of freezers where the cakes are kept (at 0 degrees) and how the cakes contract in the cold and expand in the heat.

She demonstrated the skills needed to frost cakes with the bakery’s special Baby Cakes and the tools she uses. There was also mention of art and combining food colors to tint the frosting.

Hinkley talked about the need for practice and shrugging off mistakes– and in the end, she treated students to some donut holes she had brought along.

Carilion Physician Assistant Matt Schneider involved students with a mini-demonstration of a basic medical exam and the instruments he uses in his job – and let them practice with the tools afterwards. (Their favorites seemed to be the stethoscope and the reflex hammer.)

Carilion Physician Assistant Matt Schneider
Students at Bonsack Elementary were able to explore a career as a Physician Assistant after a presentation by Matt Schneider on Career Day.

He talked about his years of training at the Jefferson College of Health Sciences and his typical day seeing approximately 20 patients per day for about 15 minutes each. He noted that to be a successful Physician Assistant, you need to have the desire to help people, work hard, and go through many years of training (about six years).

Schneider also shared a story about his daughter being born in a car on the way to the hospital, rather than at the hospital.

All fourth and fifth graders gathered in the gym for a presentation by Emmy-award winning graphic designer Eric Parton who makes nationally broadcast commercials. He described himself as a “digital artist,” who does most of his work on the computer, usually starting from just a simple drawing.

Parton told students he “drew all the time as a child, starting with Sonic the Hedgehog in second grade.” He drew his way through elementary, middle, and high school, and went to college searching for a career path which would enable him to make a living drawing. He ended up at the Art Institute of Atlanta and found his passion with graphic design which has allowed him “to apply art to all kinds of things,” over 15 years.

He explained that producing a video commercial involves a team of up to 30 people to “make it happen.” Generally, someone comes to him, “often with a crazy idea” which they would like translated to a video production.

One particular “crazy idea” involved producing a commercial which showed NBA players on the quest for a trophy – through the extremes of desert, dark cave, and icy mountain – without them actually risking their lives.

Parton showed students how the images were produced for “The Quest” with the players simply sitting in a room with green screens, with all the special effects added by the graphic designers.

He talked to students about the perks of his job with his own business– he is his own boss; he sets his own schedule and can work from his kitchen table in his pajamas much of the time. He is only tied to a schedule for the actual shoots. Parton says that he and his wife moved to Roanoke two years ago, drawn by its beauty and outdoor recreation activities.

“I heard so many positive comments about Career Day from the speakers, teachers and students,” said Felicia Hinkley. “The teachers were all so happy with all speakers and mentioned they all talked about why education is so important in their career.”

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