In a traditional classroom setting, Olentangy High School senior Marissa Smith sometimes has trouble staying engaged. Like many other students, she learns best through hands-on training.
So when she discovered the fire service training program at the Delaware Area Career Center during her freshman year, it seemed like a perfect fit. She enrolled in 2010 and currently is working toward graduation next spring.
"It was the best decision of my life," Smith said. "It's way better than sitting in a classroom all day, where it's hard to pay attention.
"It's more hands-on and I get to feel like I'm part of a team."
Teamwork comes naturally to Smith, an athlete who participates on her home school's cheerleading squad and softball team.
She and several of her peers at the career center addressed the Olentangy school board during its Oct. 9 meeting touting positive experiences and offering words of encouragement for students considering enrolling at the school, which is located at 1610 state Route 521 and focuses on vocational training.
The school's fire service program put Smith on track for a career as a firefighter. After graduation, she plans to work as a part-time firefighter and enroll at Columbus State Community College to complete paramedic training.
For now, she attends Olentangy High School for academic classes during the first half of the school day, then travels to the career center after lunch to complete the day. Some students spend all day at the career center.
Olentangy Liberty High School senior Jared Mohler also attends the center for half-day training in the school's law enforcement program.
He's had the chance to study law and crime-scene investigation and said he hopes to join the Air Force after graduation.
But the best part of the experience, he said, is the connections he's made with teachers and students who share his interests.
"You really connect with the teachers, and by the end of the year you call the other students your family," Mohler said.
Meanwhile, Olentangy Liberty senior Justin Viers is putting his knack for tinkering to use in the power sports and diesel technology program.
He's learning how to weld, install electrical systems, repair engines and transmissions and more, and hopes to go on to become a mechanic or an engineer.
The center's programs span industries that include business, agriculture, public health, construction, architecture and web design, among others.
The programs are designed for high school juniors and seniors, though some sophomores enroll.
The center draws students all corners of Delaware County, including the Olentangy, Delaware, Buckeye Valley and Westerville school districts, as well as Worthington schools.
About 90 of its roughly 1,000 students hail from Olentangy schools.
Many students at the center start careers right after graduation, but others go on to continue their education in college.
School board member Julie Wagner Feasel said more students should consider the opportunities afforded by the center.
"I think this is a hidden gem in our community and I would like to see more students taking advantage of it," Feasel said.
"The career center students I know already have jobs lined up after high school -- and they're not just jobs, they're careers with benefits."