Abilene ISD gave more than 1,000 eighth-graders a first-hand look March 1 at what they’ll begin experiencing next year with “Hello, High School.”

This year’s event, the third for the district, returned to the Abilene Convention Center. The first event was in person in March 2020, just before Spring Break and prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s event was virtual with the district setting up a website and teachers guiding activities online. Even this year’s event was postponed for a week because of icy road conditions.

Originally scheduled for Feb. 23, the district was closed for inclement weather, forcing the change of date. But Lucille Fullen, Director of Career and Technical Education (CTE), said having to move the event a week only emphasized the teamwork needed to pull off such a large event.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this,” Fullen said, “and we really saw that with having to push it a week because of weather. Transportation is heavily involved, as well as all four middle school campuses and all three high school campuses. The Curriculum & Instruction team – along with the CTE team – has been amazing. They’re really the feet on the ground. Our digital coaches have been terrific, and Ashley Parker hand-scheduled every middle school student for their academic sessions. And Student Nutrition was amazing. They put together 1,400 sandwiches last week and had to do it again this week when we moved the event.”

Partnering with almost two dozen local businesses and municipalities – including Arrow Ford, Hartmann Inc., Rentech Boilers, Eide Bailly, Jackson Bros, Datroo, KTAB, the Abilene Police Department, the Abilene Fire Department, and Sports Clips – the 8th-grade students were exposed to CTE fields of study, extracurricular activities and other programs the district offers. They were also able to hear from local business leaders in those fields, and they met with counselors from each high school to start thinking about their freshman-year schedules.

In addition, they were able to meet current high school students at booths spread out throughout the Convention Center lobby and ask the high schoolers questions about ROTC, Holland Medical High School, FFA, athletics, fine arts, cheerleading, dance teams and other programs the district offers.

“A lot of the eighth-graders we’ve talked to are interested in Holland because of the hands-on aspect of the school,” said Ian Martin, a junior who attends both Cooper High School and Holland. “We’re doing clinicals and working with models and really engaging in the learning process. That’s what I enjoy the most about Holland, and it’s easy to see that’s what the eighth-graders are most interested in.”

Some of the most popular sessions of the day – health science, engineering, graphic design and cybersecurity to name a few – had two academic sessions because of the demand from students.

Broc Baird, who teaches graphic design and multimedia arts at The LIFT, is part of the fast-growing graphic design program at The LIFT, and he said he could see the excitement of the eighth graders throughout the day.

“We’ve got a lot of these kids excited about our animation / graphic design courses,” Baird said. “The kids who are interested in art are interested in the animation part, specifically. And the ones excited about graphic design are interested from the entrepreneurial standpoint. They want to start their own businesses or clothing lines and know they need this background to make that happen. The creative side is drawn to animation and the business / leadership side is drawn to graphic design.”

The animation and graphic design courses are some of the fastest-growing courses in the AISD, and Baird attributes it to the experience the students are receiving.

“We’ve got amazing technology for those students to use each day,” he said. “Between the computers, the drawing tablets and what we have available at the MakerSpace, we can do so much our curriculum. Our students are going in and getting their hands dirty and learning skills and showing it off to their friends, who, in turn, become interested in the program. That’s what we’re selling (at Hello, High School).”

Fullen said it’s those moment where students realize what’s available to them in the district via CTE programs, extracurricular activities or other areas that is her favorite part of the event.

“I love hearing those students have their ‘Aha!’ moments,” she said. “You really hear those in the information booths because they get to talk to high school students and find out what’s really going on in those programs. They can hear it in the academic sessions, but you can really hear their excitement when they’re able to engage with the high-schoolers.”