‘College is not the only path to success’
Pennsylvania districts received grades in November that reflect efforts for 2017-18. Officials at a number of local districts, now that there’s a better understanding of meeting the state mandate, believe this year’s grades will more accurately reflect schools’ efforts.
Schools are graded on a 100 percent scale; 91.8 percent is the state average.
Districts must provide the state with six pieces of evidence of career readiness for each elementary and middle school student, and eight pieces for each high school student.
At the elementary level, that can include writing reports on careers or outlining business plans, like the Wescosville fourthgraders do. Middle and high school students could experience job shadowing or develop a career portfolio.
Ideally all such activities will be logged with the state as evidence of meeting the mandate.
The Catasauqua Area School District was already giving students on-the-job training with a program it’s had since 2010 with B. Braun Medical Inc., Superintendent Robert Spengler said. It includes a tour of the B. Braun facility and mock interviews.
The program covers many fields, said Christina Lutz-Doemling, director of Catasauqua’s curriculum and assessment, offering glimpses into different vocations.
“You not only get the chances to figure out what you want to do, but to also figure out what you definitely don’t want to do,” Lutz-Doemling said. “And that’s just as important.”
The early start in career-focused education has paid off for the district now that the state has begun to measure these efforts. Catasauqua excelled in the career standards benchmarks, scoring an above-average 98 percent.
The district secured a $17,600 state grant to help provide district staff with a greater understanding of industry trends, needs and opportunities. The employment landscape changes frequently, Spengler said.
“College is not the only path to success,” he said. “It’s our obligation to help students identify their skills and parlay that into an understanding to what careers and pathways are tied to those interests. That’s our role and our mission.”
Vo-tech schools, such as Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, have trained students in fields for decades. At LCTI, students typically attend homeroom at their home high school, and then are bused to the vo-tech school for instruction in areas including business, engineering, human services and technology.
The state’s new benchmarks means all students should have that exposure.
Michael Koch, Easton Area’s director of assessment and accountability, said the emphasis on career readiness marks a positive shift, especially considering the need for skilled workers in Pennsylvania and across the country in jobs that don’t necessarily require four-year degrees.
“A bachelor’s degree is great, but in some of these specialty areas it’s not necessary to spend four years on a degree when you can learn it in 18 months or get it on the job,” Koch said. “I think that’s a big change in our workforce in the future. We have to make sure we’re preparing our students for the same.”
In Easton, career readiness starts in elementary school. Koch said young students hear from people in different careers to see what type job might interest them and fit their personality. If a student dislikes working with people, for instance, hospitality might not be the field for them, Koch said.
In middle school, students use a program called Xello to do online activities that build a profile in part by asking them about their interests.
“[The program] will take those inventories and attach them to activities to explore career pathways that suit their interests and their skills,” Koch said.
“A bachelor’s degree is great, but in some of these specialty areas it’s not necessary to spend four years on a degree when you can learn it in 18 months or get it on the job.” — Michael Koch, Easton Area director of assessment and accountability
Apprentices at B. Braun Medical Inc. meet state Labor & Industry Deputy Secretary Eileen Cipriani in 2017. In addition to its apprenticeship training program, B. Braun offers a tour and mock interviews to Catasauqua Area students, helping the district train youths to be ready for a career.