Senaida Avalos, a freshman at Polk State College, is grateful the Polk County School District develops new programs that keep up with current market demands, such as the Pharmacy Technician Academy at Fort Meade Middle-Senior High School.

“I think that one of the things that the school system did well was create programs, such as the pharmacy program I was involved in, to help students get a head start when they enter the workforce,” said Avalos, who graduated in 2019. “Because I did the pharmacy academy, I am now a certified pharmacy technician at my job at Welldyne Rx.”

Juggling a full-time job and a full load of courses, Avalos, 18, is working toward her associate of arts. She has her eye on the end goal, something she said she was taught in high school.

“The most important thing I learned while in school is that hard work will pay off in the end,” she said. “Most people who heard this in high school put the end goal as graduation, but my end goal is the life I want to live when I am an adult living on my own. This encouraged me to work hard in high school and start taking college courses early.”

Avalos said the classes she took in high school prepared her for college.

“The teachers in high school were laid back a little — just like college — and I had to make sure my assignments were turned in and my grades were good instead of the teacher doing it for me.” She said that forced her to be motivated to stay organized, she said.

Amy Hardee, principal at Fort Meade high school, said Avalos had excellent leadership skills and a solid work ethic while a student there.

College and Beyond

As she works on her associate degree at Polk State College, which she hopes to have by the end of the Fall 2020 semester, Avalos is also completing prerequisites for the sonography program she wants to enter, most likely in the spring of 2021.

Avalos said she’s interested in sonography because she likes to help people whenever possible.

After earning her degree, she plans to enter the workforce quickly.

“I do not know what my end goal will look like, but I will continue to work hard because I can see great progress and the future will be easier for me,” Avalos said.

If she stays with sonography, she faces a bright future: Diagnostic medical sonographer jobs are expected to increase nearly 20 percent; 14,200 more jobs to a total of 87,100 nationwide — from 2018 to 2028. The median annual salary is $72,500.

But first, Avalos has to finish college. “The biggest challenge I face right now is trying to balance a full-time job and full-time classes. The good news is that I got one semester down!”