3 minute read

From Bouquets to Bondo

After nearly two decades running a Conway flower shop, Lisa Schichtl wanted to be closer to her children as they attended high school. She found a position as a paraprofessional in Conway’s Auto Collision Technology program.

“We teach them sanding techniques and the different grits,” she said. “They learn how to fix a dent from start to finish, hammering it out to the body filler all the way to paint.”

Schichtl’s father was a mechanic, but she says she didn’t really help in the shop.

“I was around cars a lot, but I never really worked on them like this,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot working with Mr. Pendley since I started here.”

As a paraprofessional, Schichtl reinforces the teacher’s lessons, and provides an extra set of eyes in a shop filled with power tools, sharp objects and even a paint spray booth.

“Safety is a big issue here,” she said. “We have to make sure they’re wearing their glasses and not getting hurt.”

With a business management degree from the University of Central Arkansas, Schichtl expected the body shop gig to be a stepping stone, but after 8 years of working with students in the shop, she isn’t interested in shifting gears.

“I got here and I loved it,” she said. “By the end of the year they’re your kids. The ones that are really interested in this, you don’t even have to tell them to go out and get to work. They’re out there.”

The program offers students a chance to take projects from start to finish, providing a feeling of accomplishment and a potential path forward after graduation.

“Their eyes will just light up,” she said. “This is something fun and hands on and they really love it back here. Basically this is just the beginning of their trade. A lot of the kids in this school aren’t college ready, or they don’t want to go to college, and this is a good trade to get in.”

As the cost of college increases, many students are heading straight to work or opting for technical educations, including Schichtl’s son.

“My oldest wasn’t college material,” she said. “He did HVAC and he’s doing great, making lots of money. We’ve had several students go on to specialty schools and they’re out probably making more money than if they’d gone to college.

“This is kind of the way the world is going right now. You’ll always need somebody to fix your car.”

When the district needed bus drivers, Schichtl stepped up, and now says her afternoon route is one of her favorite parts of the day.

“Those little ones getting on, that just makes your day,” she said. “They have to tell you about their day, to tell you a story or give you a hug and that just makes the end of the day so much better.”

Schichtl also understands her position provides more than just a safe ride to and from school. She’s also the first school employee kids see, and she makes sure to be a friendly face.

“A lot of times you’re the first person to say good morning because at home, you know you’re running around, you’re getting ready and life happens,” she said. “I try to tell every one of them good morning and in the afternoons if I’m not giving them a hug it’s, ‘Have a good day!’ or ‘See you in the morning!’ When they step off the bus, life happens again. It’s homework and softball or baseball practice, whatever kind of sport, so a lot of times they need that. That may be the only time they get to hear it.”

Working 2 positions where safety is a priority, Schichtl says its reasuring to know the Arkansas Education Association has her back.

“In this day and age, you never know what might happen,” she said. “If you need it, they’re there in case something does go wrong.”

And she’s also glad to have someone advocating for public school employees.

“Our voice is up there at the legislature and in Washington,” she said. “They do a lot of great stuff at the schools, you know better benefits, making sure our salaries are ok, insurance.”

Schichtl recently lost her mother and both in-laws, and now the flower shop is again in her hands. After her afternoon route, she often heads over to handle the business.

“I can do both but it’s a lot of work, especially around Valentine’s day, Mother’s day,” she said. “An awesome woman helps me run it, and without her I would have to choose.”

A career choice that luckily, she doesn’t have to make.

“I don’t know that I would choose the flower shop,” she said. “I love both of them.”