By DAVID GREEN
Is second grade too early to begin thinking about a future career?
Not at Morenci Elementary School. That’s when children start thinking about a job they might enjoy after graduation.
Actually, career education starts a little earlier than that. It’s a K-12 program in Morenci.
“In kindergarten, we talk about parents’ jobs and we emphasize the need to go to school,” said Mary Fisher, elementary school dean of students. “Career exploration is a big thing at the elementary school level.”
Arts and Communications, for example, draws creative thinkers into careers ranging from performers to journalists. Natural Resources and Agriscience typically attracts people who enjoy the outdoors and the physical world to careers including farming, landscaping or chemistry.
Children are exposed to terminology, Ms. Fisher said, and they’re encouraged to think about a career they might enjoy—and the educational requirements needed to get that job.
“What’s a pathway?” she asks. “It’s a road that you follow.”
Career Pathways are formally visited again in the fourth grade, but there are many career references throughout the lower grades—some planned and others that just appear on the scene.
“Whoever comes into the building, teachers will tie that into career information,” Ms. Fisher said.
There’s also career exploration built into the curriculum, along with role-playing opportunities and career videos to watch.
In answer to the opening question: No, Ms. Fisher would say, it’s not too early to begin thinking about a career while still in the younger grades.
Career education is nothing new for Mrs. Kruger at the middle school. She believes Morenci is one of few county districts to have placed such emphasis on career exploration over recent years.
Currently, with the switch this year to trimesters, eighth grade students each take a 12-week Careers course.
A textbook guides the class, exploring topics such as why people work, benefits from working, what employers expect from employees, what employees should expect from employers, etc.
Why work? To earn a wage for food and housing, of course. Mrs. Kruger brings that point home in a budgeting project. Students each start with a $27,000 wage and watch as taxes eat into their take-home salary.
The students pay bills and see what they have left over for spending and saving, and they compare this amount to what someone with a minimum wage job would have.
Other projects include skits where students try out the role of job-seeker or personnel director of a company. Teamwork projects are also assigned with the goal of experiencing compromise. Many jobs today involve teamwork, Mrs. Kruger said.
The class also includes an introduction to résumé writing, a tour of the Lenawee Vocational Technical Center, research into jobs of interest, interviews with parents about their jobs and what they like and would like to change about them.
Eighth grade students take the Career Occupational Preference System (COPS), a career interest inventory, and this year they’ll also take ACT’s Explore test. Explore serves as an introduction to the ACT test, but also provides some information about career possibilities and helps students clarify goals.
As seventh graders, students get their first look at the state-supported Career Cruising website, a comprehensive program that includes assessment tools, career exploration, education planning, a résumé builder and more. Students who sign up for the Career Exploration course spend a lot of time with Career Cruising.
“We’re working very in depth with that,” Mrs. Kruger said. “A different set of jobs are studied each week and an on-line journal is kept.”
When it’s time for parent-teacher conferences, students lead the session and present their accomplishments as they might in a job interview.
“A lot of schools do a career unit through another class,” Mrs. Kruger said. “Morenci has consistently offered career studies at the eighth grade level and that’s followed up with the personal economics class in high school.”
Tenth grade is the year students take the ACT PLAN test. The assessment gives students an idea of where they stand academically for college and it helps them plan for life after high school.
“It gives them a realistic view of how they’re doing academically and how it relates to what they’d like to do in life,” counselor Diana Fallot said. “It’s a good reality check. It shows how your education works hand in hand with your future career.”
Career exploration doesn’t wait until the sophomore year, however. Morenci’s weekly Transitions program keeps the future firmly in mind.
Transitions class—small groups of students meeting weekly with a teacher for 20 or 30 minutes—gives students the time to update their Career Cruising portfolio by adding grades, credits and information for the résumé.
“I like Career Cruising because they keep adding more categories and many kids have such a limited scope of what’s out there,” said counselor Diana Fallot. “In Morenci it can be a problem because kids are often interested in jobs not located here. Other than Vo-Tech, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to visit.”
She would like to increase awareness of jobs that do exist locally.
“I like kids to get out of the comfort zone of school,” she said. “I’d like to make more connections.”
She welcomes hearing from any area businesses willing to give students an introduction to jobs. The importance of attendance, grades and work ethic can all come into better focus with a visit to a job site.
Vo-Tech classes are available in the junior year, but career awareness efforts continue for all students.
As the high school years progress, students are expected to have an idea of what they’ll do in the future, but it’s not going to happen for everyone.
“I’d be happy if they just knew what they didn’t want to do,” Mrs. Fallot said. “I don’t want to force them into deciding, but I want them to know the options. I don’t want them to close doors to the future unwittingly.”
That can happen by missing out in credits that could be needed later. With the state’s new graduation requirements, careful planning is needed. Mrs. Fallot would like to see four-year scheduling from the freshman year to avoid problems.
High school is clearly the time to examine the big picture, Mrs. Fallot said, to take an objective look at where you are heading.
The emphasis on career education hasn’t really changed all that much in recent years, she said, at least not in Morenci.
The change is in what’s available for students to use. The technology continues to grow, she said, and information is at their fingertips.
The challenge is always the same, Mrs. Fallot said: “Kids have to want to use it.”