Education

Kansas schools focus on real-world job experiences (+video)

VIDEO: Student learns about teaching in Cheney classroom

Sabrina Rich, a senior at Cheney High School, spends part of her school day at Cheney Elementary learning about teaching and exploring the career before she even starts college. (Suzanne Tobias/The Wichita Eagle)
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Sabrina Rich, a senior at Cheney High School, spends part of her school day at Cheney Elementary learning about teaching and exploring the career before she even starts college. (Suzanne Tobias/The Wichita Eagle)

Sabrina Rich, a high school senior, spent part of a recent morning reading a picture book about a dancing giraffe and sounding out words that begin with “y.”

Her course schedule at Cheney High School includes an internship at Cheney Elementary School, where she spends several hours each week in Kori Hague’s first-grade classroom, watching Hague teach, helping with lessons and learning what a career in education might involve.

“I think it’s a lot more beneficial for me to be here and experience a real classroom,” said Rich, who wants to be an elementary school teacher. “This is better than just taking a bunch of extra (high school) classes just to fill my schedule.”

Such opportunities are part of a new statewide push in Kansas to help students explore potential career paths earlier. The state’s new vision for education emphasizes individual plans of study that include internships, job shadowing and other real-world experiences as part of students’ K-12 coursework.

Students in the workplace

In the past, individual plans of study were used mostly for students in career and technical education programs. Students take the Kansas Career Pipeline survey – an online assessment that gauges potential career interests – in the eighth grade and then work with counselors to choose appropriate high school classes for that career.

More recently, though, college and career counselors in many districts are ramping up IPS efforts and looking for ways to get middle- and high-school students first-hand looks inside potential careers.

“We try to start the dialogue earlier about what their passions are, what careers they might be considering,” said Jodi Grover, a college and career counselor at Cheney middle and high schools.

Early assessments help students choose high school classes or pathways related to their fields of interest, Grover said. She meets with them again in 10th grade to begin building resumes that include work experience, activities, honors and volunteerism.

Students who plan to attend a four-year college can get started on dual-credit classes in high school, she said. Someone interested in being a certified nurse’s assistant or automotive mechanic can take technical classes that double as high school credits.

Grover tries to get every student out into the workplace at least a little, she said. Sometimes, as with Rich’s internship at Cheney Elementary, the experience cements commitment to a career path. Other times, the vision of a potential career doesn’t match the reality, and students opt to go another route.

When you’re talking to parents, they’ll say, ‘What if they pick this pathway and they don’t like it?’ We say, ‘Great, awesome, we want them to experiment.’

Jodi Grover, Cheney High School college and career counselor

“When you’re talking to parents, they’ll say, ‘What if they pick this pathway and they don’t like it?’ We say, ‘Great, awesome, we want them to experiment,’ ” Grover said. “If they tried it and don’t like it, they can move on. … None of this is set in stone.”

Refocusing on goals

So far, the Kansas Board of Education has strongly recommended – but not required – that school districts develop individual plans of study for every student. Some districts, particularly large ones, have contended that they don’t have enough counselors, don’t offer enough elective courses or have other time and financial priorities.

Jim McNiece, chairman of the state board and a former Wichita high school principal, said the state’s newly articulated vision – “Kansas leads the world in the success of each student” – means a renewed focus on individual students over standardized tests.

“It’s not a checklist to be fulfilled. It’s a belief that you have as a school, as a district, as a community: that you are going to be an advocate for that student as they move forward through their life,” McNiece said.

Districts may need to refocus counselors’ efforts on individual plans of study and career development instead of other duties, he said. Zeroing in on kids’ specific college and career goals could help schools develop more relevant class schedules, he added.

“When you find out what the kids need, that actually helps you provide the classes kids want,” McNiece said.

“Maybe you need different foreign language classes, or art or welding or digital photography. … The first step is to organize the resources you do have and channel them in a way that supports the kids. Then see where the gaps are and try to fill those.”

‘Amazing opportunity’

In Hague’s classroom at Cheney Elementary, Rich helps during small reading groups, submits lunch counts, assembles bulletin boards, supervises recess and lends a hand wherever needed.

Sabrina Rich, a senior at Cheney High School, spends part of her school day at Cheney Elementary learning about teaching and exploring the career before she even starts college. (Suzanne Tobias/The Wichita Eagle)

For high school credit, Rich reflects on her experiences in a daily journal and will submit a research paper that dissects an event that happened while she was in the classroom. She also will teach several 30-minute lessons, doing the planning and follow-up that actual teachers have to do.

“It’s been a pretty amazing opportunity,” Rich said.

Hague agreed. She didn’t get actual classroom experience until her sophomore year of college, she said. “If you realize then that you don’t like it, that’s a little late,” she said.

Kathy Busch, a state school board member from Wichita, said she envisions high school teachers talking about individual plans of study during conferences, updating parents on students’ course selections, work-study programs and more.

This can’t be something that just the counselor does, but it also can’t be something we just dump on the teacher and say, ‘Go do this.’

Kathy Busch, Kansas Board of Education member

“This can’t be something that just the counselor does, but it also can’t be something we just dump on the teacher and say, ‘Go do this,’ ” Busch said.

“It’s important for high school kids to begin to identify what their passions are and then begin to think about a possible career,” she said. “They’re liable to change their mind 15,000 times, but that’s OK. Let’s get them thinking about truly what their interests are and where they can go from there.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias

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