My entire education career has been centered on giving students the best possible avenue to be successful after they graduate from high school.
My undergraduate training focused on vocational education, which is now called Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE provides students with opportunities and experiences in high school that will help them decide the career choice they want to make before going to college, or allow them to earn the skills and credentials needed to jump into the career field the Monday after graduation.
I am living that experience with my 15-year-old daughter, who is a sophomore at Carroll High School. She has always had a passion for animals and taking care of them. She’s thinking about becoming a veterinarian.
Looking at the pathways available to her at Carroll that align closest to that goal, she decided to take the animal science pathway and will hopefully be able to enter a health science program at the Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) Career Academy her senior year. That is just one example of how students can prepare themselves for life after high school graduation.
As the former principal of the Career Academy and now the director of CTE for FWCS, I am instrumental in creating those pathway opportunities for all students in Allen County. To effectively choose a pathway, the students will need to be given the opportunity to determine what they like and don’t like. Most of the time, they only know what they see: the careers of their family members.
We have to do a better job of showing students what is available. We are working on transforming education as we align career pathways PK–12 in FWCS. We are doing backward planning by looking at local workforce demand and student interest to create those opportunities and determine the pathways to offer within our high schools. When we have those pathways determined, we can align the experiences for students in PK–8.
We have started that process with the Occupation Exploration Program at the Jim Kelley Career Pathway Center. In a partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne, we are able to create exploration activities in health sciences, manufacturing, information technology, construction trades, and automotive technology. All FWCS seventh and eighth graders will get to experience activities within those five career areas. The goal is to then work our way down to the elementary level to create meaningful and relevant opportunities at each grade level to see what is out there.
Students don’t know what they have not experienced, so we are going to create a space for them to find an interest in something. We want to make the thinking visible to students.
Along with those experiences, students will also be learning the professional skills necessary in every career: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
Now is the time to help our young students find their passion so that they can work toward it and not just dream about it.