Click here to watch a video recap of Hello High School 2024!

It wasn’t that long ago that Benjamin Weems was an eighth-grader wandering through the Abilene Convention Center with wide eyes, wondering what high school might be like for him.

Four years later, Weems – now a senior at ATEMS – was the one staring at the big eyes of Abilene ISD middle school students, who on Thursday (Feb. 22) participated in the fifth annual Hello, High School event, a district-wide initiative giving eighth-grade students at the four middle schools a glimpse at what is ahead for them at Abilene High School, Cooper High School, or ATEMS.

Partnering with more than 20 local businesses and using counselors and students from Abilene and Cooper high schools and ATEMS, the district exposed the eighth-grade students to the Career and Technical Education programs AISD offers. Additionally, they heard from local business leaders in those fields and met with counselors from each high school to start thinking about their freshman-year schedules.

The eighth-graders were also face-to-face with high school students who were on hand to offer advice on how to handle the transition to high school.

Students were able to hear from local professionals in sessions about accounting and financial services, animal sciences, applied agricultural engineering, automotive repair, business management, carpentry, cosmetology, culinary arts, cybersecurity, digital communications, early learning, electrical trades, emergency services (Abilene Fire Department), engineering, family and community services, graphic design and multimedia arts, healthcare, information technology support and services, law enforcement, programming and software development, teaching and training, and welding.

Weems was in the eighth grade at Madison Middle School when AISD hosted the first Hello, High School event in early March 2020, just days before schools across the country were shut down for the rest of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four short years later, Weems was one of three ATEMS students working the booth for Graphic Design and Interactive Media, and theirs was one of the most popular booths for next year’s ninth-graders.

“Most of the questions we’ve gotten have been pretty broad,” said Weems, who plans to major in graphic design at Abilene Christian University. “They (eighth-grade students) want to know what the programs look like and how they can use their skills as they go through high school. We’ve had a lot of interest in animation because that’s appealing to people who grew up watching cartoons and animated TV shows. It’s been great answering their questions.”

One student asking those questions was Craig Middle School eighth-grader Natalee Nielsen, who was talking to Weems about the graphic design classes offered at ATEMS. A budding artist, she’s seeking ways to express her creative side in high school.

“My mom is an artist, and I’ve always loved that and wanted to do something creative,” Nielsen said. “I like to draw and create and design logos of all types. I don’t know that I want to make a career out of graphic design, but I want to know more about it before I get to Abilene High.”

That sense of excitement mixed with a little bit of trepidation that Weems saw in the faces of middle school students Thursday is what he remembers of his Hello, High School experience.

“It was great being introduced to all of these classes and options that we had in high school,” he said. “I talked to students who had been at Madison before me, and those conversations were helpful. Seeing my peers who spoke like professionals and people who were young but knew so much about the subject was encouraging. I hope it’s the same for the students today.”