“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X
In the Tahoma School District, we have gone through various iterations of district goals for students – what do we want students to be prepared to do after they graduate? While the idyllic vision many parents have for their kid is direct enrollment into an Ivy School, for some students this path would only lead to four years of wasted time and $240,000 of student loan debt, with no career in sight.
Tahoma consistently ranks in the top 10 in state test scores and has made the AP District Honor Roll multiple years, yet only 47% of our students enroll directly in a four-year college. That means if we focused solely on college admissions as a goal, 53% of our students would be left in the lurch. But, even worse, we as a district would implicitly be making a value judgment that the passions and skills 53% of our students possess are not worthy.
That’s not right.
Our district goals for students are currently called Future Ready Skills – these are transferrable skills that are valuable in every walk of life, not just for four-year college students. Skills like Effective Communicator mean that students should leave our school able to competently present information to others, whether as a lawyer making closing arguments, a scientist writing a conclusion in a research paper, a mechanic going over a car inspection report with a customer, or a waiter presenting a menu to patrons.
These kinds of goals are nothing new to most districts. However, the way Tahoma is starting to gather data and track the information is new and potentially groundbreaking.
Students start with their goals in mind. Throughout their academic lives, students research their ideal careers. They do interest inventories, job shadows, interviews and many other activities to help find careers that lines up with their interests and has a strong job outlook for the future.
Counselors and teachers work together with students to help them select the most appropriate course sequence to get to whatever goal they want, keeping open as many doors as they can in case students decide to change their minds later. Again, nothing new compared to most districts.
The new part is that students can electronically track which courses they have completed and are planning on taking, and audit whether they are on track to get to their desired post-secondary plan and career. Then students can plan for the appropriate course path, easily seeing which classes can take care of which graduation requirements, and determine how much space they have for other electives to broaden their high school experience.
For example, let’s say student Susie Q wants to become a dentist at an elite university:
Susie Q would select the corresponding drop-down choices. The system we use pre-populates suggestions for graduation requirement credits a student should take in their high school career, and highlights those in green. Then, any electives will come up in orange, indicating these are electives and adding notes if the elective should come from a specific strand to make their college application more competitive (World Language, CTE, etc.).
Students can then filter by the noted requirements, then select an appropriate course or gather more information on a course, including a description and an estimated hours of homework. In the below example, Susie is considering whether she should take College Spanish in 10th grade, and can look to the course catalog to make a more educated decision.
Again, the content is nothing new – counseling teams have been doing this for ages. What is new is the conversion of this data from paper to electronic. By making this information electronic, it becomes easier for students to access these records anywhere. That makes having conversations with parents and mentors easier. Electronic systems help students literally “walk through” all of the possible choices they could make for careers, and actually see with real courses the difference in workload between preparing for trade school and preparing for a highly selective college, to help make an educated decision on what is the best use of their time and talents.
On the other side, counselors can also use these online tools to help show students the dramatic decrease in freedom of choice that failing classes can provide. By placing classes students would need to repeat or retrieve credits for, students can directly connect how failing 9th grade Science can take away their chance to take Video Productions in senior year – and if that student has an unknown talent for cinematography, this omission could rob the world of the next Francis Ford Coppola.
Our state as a whole benefits when school districts can line students up with careers they would excel at by tapping into their natural passions. The sooner the path to that career is outlined, the more likely it is that we can help steer a student towards that career, and if we can save that student $240,000 in unnecessary tuition expenses along the way, so much the better.
If this all looks exciting to you, I would start by contacting any existing data collection / gradebook / student management vendors your school district currently works with and exploring whether they have an existing program or would like to work with your district to develop such a career planning tool.
In 1984, the band Twisted Sister asked a timeless question – “What do you wanna do with your life?”
Let’s help every kid find their personalized answer to that question.
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