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Shadowing sheds light on future

By Greg Gelpi

Funerals are for looking back over a person's life, but offered a chance for local students to look ahead in their lives. North Clayton High School students participated in a session of job shadowing by learning the ins and outs of the funeral business at Thomas L. Scroggs Tara Garden Chapel funeral home Monday.

Viewing everything from an array of caskets to the preparation room for bodies, the work-based learning and transition students toured the facility and experienced what it would be like to work in a funeral home.

"If I was here I couldn't clean the old body," freshman Kanice Dunn, 15, said. "To me, it's just nasty."

Funeral director Steve White described the services that the Tara Gardens offers, including "restoration art," recreating a life-like look on the dead body.

"We can rebuild a nose or an ear to make it look natural," he said.

Gathering in the preparation room of the funeral home, White also told the students about the embalming process, the process of replacing using the body's circulatory system to replace blood with formaldehyde.

Several students expressed an interest in driving a hearse, but few wanted to work with the bodies or the families of the people who died.

Student Nehemiha Oshadipe was surprised by the prices of the caskets and asked White if any celebrities had been brought to the funeral home.

"It's kind of a calling, like teaching," White said. "I don't like what I have to do with my job, but I get a great deal of satisfaction in helping the families."

Although, most of the students didn't feel the "calling" to be funeral directors, they did feel called to watch a funeral director in action, asking what hours he worked and if he would demonstrate his job for the,

"We're not expecting anything, but you never know what's going to happen," White said. "The hours are long and hard. When you get a death call, you can't wait to pick the body up."

White said that students must attend an 18-month mortuary school and serve as an apprentice for 3,970 hours before working as a funeral director. Part of that apprenticeship includes assisting in 50 funerals and 50 embalmings.

Work-based learning has been around for about four years, Judy Nickel, work-based learning coordinator for North Clayton High School, said. The program enables students to work in the afternoon, while taking classes in the morning.

Clayton County has been a pioneer in the state, she said, as the first school system in the state to implement work-based learning, a program many other systems have "copied."

Nickel said the transition program teaches students "life skills to be independent after high school."

Students from North Clayton have also learned about jobs at Hanson Quarry in Tyrone, Union City Veterinary Clinic, Washington Mutual and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.