Every principal wants to make career readiness a priority. The problem many schools face is that there aren’t easy ways to fit it into an already packed array of required courses and subjects. I have seen schools push career programming into classes such as family and consumer science, technology, or even health. Unfortunately, each of those courses have other standards and objectives that lead to difficult curriculum decisions to fit it all in.
Other schools stop everything to devote time to a “career day” where a parade of local professionals come in to share their expertise and experience. These ever-present rituals have their strengths, but like most one-shot events their effectiveness can be limited—and someone inevitably has to coordinate the entire program. With only so many minutes in the day, in most cases adding a new program takes time away from other initiatives or priorities.
The Windsor Central School District’s “Future Knights” program includes seven different career pathways we expose every student to in some degree from kindergarten through 12th grade, including business and finance, health care, computer science, agriculture, education, trades, and engineering. We’ve learned that the trick to embedding career counseling is working within existing structures and schedules to make it an add-on program without having to add to the school day or take away from anything else. At Windsor Central Middle School, our team devised a plan that would not impede on any class, curriculum, or instructional time. They found a sponsor, collaborated with community members, and found the perfect time of day to introduce our students to the world of work—lunchtime!
Picture a group of middle school students learning about a different career each Friday in the library while eating their lunch. Imagine each student there voluntarily because their interest was piqued earlier in the week through a slideshow or video teaser about the profession in their morning advisory period. Students asking questions of their own or from a list provided to them. Now picture each student getting cookies for participating. Picture further a follow-up session on Monday to reflect on their experience. And finally, picture it happening almost every week throughout the year!
Our Careers and Cookies program has a unique structure that I believe could be replicated in any school. Our counselors dedicated each month to one of our career pathways and found local experts to talk to our students about what they do and how they got where they are. Every week during advisory time, students learn about a new career through watching videos and having discussions about a different career. Students sign up during their advisory time and bring their lunch to the library on Fridays.
Throughout the school year, students are able to meet with over 30 different professionals from various careers and pathways. These speakers have included a dental hygienist, a pipefitter, civil engineers, a veterinarian technician, a construction manager, a mechanic, a car dealership owner, and many others.
Students are encouraged to ask questions, but they are provided some generic questions to spark conversation. These include:
- What is a workday like for you?
- How long have you been in your profession?
- What led you to decide to do this for a living?
- How often do you work with others?
- What is your advice if I’m interested in this career path?
- What are some things you did growing up that helped prepare for this field?
- Are there other related fields that you could work in?
- What kind of education or training do you need?
- What is the salary range for your position?
- What is the most challenging part of your job?
- What do you like most about your job?
- What are some of the skills that you need to have to be successful in your job?
- How often do you use math every day?
- How often do you use reading, writing, or foreign language skills?
- What changes do you see in the future? Will technology have an impact?
- What do you wish you knew when you were our age that you know now?
The Careers and Cookies program was sponsored by the Visions Federal Credit Union, and we were honored to have its CEO, Ty Muse, come to our school to kick off the initiative during a schoolwide assembly where students were encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about all that life has to offer. The program continues to be a big hit with students, and it helps us promote a future-ready mindset throughout our school.
The Mission of the Windsor Central School District is to ensure each learner is future ready by providing empowering educational experiences. It’s a promise we make to every student, and career readiness is part of that goal. Wherever your school or district is in career preparation, routinely scheduled guest speakers can have an immediate impact on the development of a future-ready student. Using your counselors to interact with the community to find a stream of guest speakers shouldn’t be too difficult. Lunchtime offers an opportunity that takes away from nothing else, and cookies can be the hook to get students in the seats. I urge you to give this a shot!
Kevin Strahley is the Principal of Windsor Central Middle School in Windsor, NY. He was the 2018 NASSP New York Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @KStrahleyWMS.