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Colin Powell Students Learn About Careers

Armed with pencils and clipboards, Drew Lewis, Nick Asencio and Dimitris Zayas asked Fairfax County Animal Control Officer Scott Cole about his job. They also looked at the displays on his table.

ALL STUDENTS at Colin Powell Elementary, the boys were participating in their school's Career Day, held in the gym recently, as part of national Career Awareness Week. And they had to ask at least three people particular questions about their careers and write down their answers.

"I think it's a good idea," said sixth-grader Drew. "It helps you find your future career." Added Dimitris: "It's to see if you'd like that job; I'm learning a lot."

When Gracia Gamarra, 11, asked Cole what he did to prepare for his job, he replied, "I learned a lot about animal behavior and health, and human behavior, as well." He also peaked the students' interest by telling them, "We have bears in Fairfax County," and then showing them photographs of the big, furry creatures.

Mai Moustafa, 11, liked the Animal Control table the best. "I think it's very fun to have a Career Day so you can see what kind of jobs other people have," said Mai. "Then, if you like it, you can be it."

"I've learned that most of the jobs are really hard, but they're fun, too," said Gracia. "I thought the most interesting one was the banker because I like dealing with money and would like to do that." First, though, she said, "You need to go to college and learn math."

Also participating was Dr. David Gentry, an emergency-room physician at Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. He has three children at Colin Powell in sixth, third and first grades.

During Career Day, he told students "why I decided to be a doctor and what I like most about it — having the opportunity to help people get better."

Pfc. Justin Drinkwater, a police officer with the Mount Vernon station, also spoke with the students about his job. His wife Kara is the school's art teacher. "I'm on our Civil Disturbance [riot] Unit, so I brought some of the equipment to show them," he said. And on the table before him was a gas mask, baton, helmet and bulletproof vest.

"The children have a lot of energy and are excited when a police officer comes to school," said Drinkwater. "They ask questions about what a police officer does vs. what they see on TV. I tell them TV is a lot different than the real world."

NICOLE TRAN, 10 1/2, called Career Day "fun, cool and interesting." She wants to be a dentist or a veterinarian, but liked the doctor and police officer best because "they have lots of interesting equipment." Rebecca Waldman, 11, also liked the doctor because "he gets to help people." But she wants to someday teach second grade.

Juned Raja, 11, also liked the police table. "I learned that they can take metal detectors and check whenever they want to," said Juned. "And they can go undercover and have cars with microphones and mini-cameras."

Marine Capt. Martin Lewis is stationed at Quantico in the Expeditionary Warfare School and has three daughters, ages 10, 9, and 6, at Colin Powell. When students asked him about the training, he said people go to boot camp if they're enlisted and to college if they're going to become officers.

He said the hardest part of his job is "being away from my family," and the best part is "being with other Marines."

Kevin Whalen, a senior special agent with the Office of the Inspector General, with HUD in Washington, D.C., participated, too. Son Sean, 12, graduated from Colin Powell last year, and children Matthew, 10, Ryan, 7, and Connor, 3, are following in his footsteps.

He told students that his favorite part of his job is "catching bad guys." The worst part, he said, is that "you can't be nice to everyone. You have to arrest the bad guys and take them to jail." During Career Day, he showed students how to be safe on the Internet.

Whalen also noted that parents should take digital photos of their children so that, if a child is lost or taken, the family can give that photo to police and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as to the news and for an amber alert.

He's a federal agent and, although most children think of the FBI when they hear those words, Whalen said there are actually 70 federal law-enforcement agencies in D.C. And he advised all the students to "go to college and don't do drugs."