Half the building plunges into darkness. As emergency lights flicker on, students and teachers scramble towards available commons spaces to resume lessons. At the same time, Operating Engineer Jerome Ware also rushes out of his office to determine the voltage issue in the school’s first power outage of the year.
Ware is the school engineer at Jefferson, in charge of electrical lighting, plumbing, the AC, and exterior and interior structural maintenance.
“My job here is to make sure that everything is working properly,” Ware said. “I love everything about this job. I like the atmosphere, I like the people, I like the staff. I love getting up to come to work in the morning.”
Beginning of Aspirations
Before reaching his current engineering position, however, Ware held a slightly different vision for his potential career path.
“At first, when I was in high school, I wanted to work at the White House,” he said. “I did wrestling and football [and] figured being a bodyguard at the House would be good. I just thought that would fall right in place with what I was trying to do.”
After he graduated from T. C. William High School, Ware lost interest in becoming a guard and began his search for a future career when he found FCPS.
“When I got out of high school, I was just working jobs here and then.” Ware said. “I didn’t have any interest to go to college or anything like that. I just knew I wanted to do maintenance of some sort and that’s when Fairfax County came in line,”
From an FCPS job fair interview, Ware got his initial job as a general custodian in 1988 and began to gain experience in that field, opening the door to higher positions and greater opportunities.
“From there I moved up to Assistant Supervisor and then from there, I wanted to do something more with my hands. [I liked the] technical part of the job… and troubleshooting things. And custodian work wasn’t that. So I started going to school and fell into HVAC,” Ware said.
New Dream in a New School
In realizing his passion for the engineering aspect of maintenance, Ware enrolled in the Bryant Apprenticeship School. He soon found himself in a familiar academic setting as his previous schooling for the next four years.
“It was like high school all over again and a little bit of a technical school,” Ware said. “Once I got into the field, different things were required of me to learn so I had to tackle that as far as taking on different trades and knowledge in those trades.”
During his schooling, however, Ware began to notice and experience subtle differences in staff attitudes toward students of one cultural group compared to the next.
“I had an experience at trade school where it seemed like more help was given to one culture than to the next culture. Even in school, it seems like more attention was given to another group than the other group… You can just feel the attitude or the tension in the air,” he said.
The Reflection of Attitudes in Society
Ware sees evidence of similar treatment in the current social climate as well.
“I see it right now today in this time that we live in,” Ware said. “I see it from time to time in the society that we live in. Even with the president that we have and the remarks that he makes. Different culture, different people. We are faced with that everyday.”
Despite the reflection of racial discrimination within society, Ware does not let the it interfere with his goals.
“I don’t let [attitudes of others] deter me or take me away from my focus on what needs to happen. Only I can control of my actions and how I perceive things, ” Ware said.
The Drive Towards Success and its Challenges
Ware prides himself in being African American and the efforts he has taken to reach success.
“I love being African American, [but] it comes with struggles,” Ware said. “I feel that being African American, you have to work much more harder to be noticed for what you do. We face [that] in society now, with different situations. It can be tough at times. I feel that you have to work harder.”
In looking back to his experiences in trade school days to his recent role in dealing with the latest school power outage, Ware shares a word of wisdom to students and their endeavors.
“Pursue your dreams,” Ware said. “Stay focused on what you want to accomplish in life and hard work pays off… You see, it can be difficult [and] life [presents] challenges. Stay on course, and everything will work out.”