Young students explore careers, college options

Young students explore careers, college options

This one wants to be a firefighter. That one an astronaut. A smattering of animal doctors, chefs, artists, and scientists.

Even as young as kindergarten, children make the connection between the jobs they see adults performing in the community and on TV, and the time when they’ll be grown up and pursuing a career themselves.

That’s why Gwinnett schools incorporate career education into the guidance curriculum for even our youngest students, and these lessons are taught at a grade-appropriate level throughout their K-12 education. Students learn about a variety of careers and the postsecondary options that will help them reach their career goals. They develop a better understanding of their own interests and abilities by taking career tests and playing career-related games, such as career jeopardy and career bingo. School media centers include books and other resources that explore jobs and the important contributions of various workers in the community.

Through a grant awarded last fall, Puckett’s Mill Elementary has added hands-on play to career exploration activities, purchasing child-sized props used in various jobs. “The children can play that they are doctors and nurses, veterinarians, chefs, construction workers, builders, painters, retailers, scientists, dentists, and athletes,” says Ginna Smith, a counselor at the school. “As they learn about the various props, the students are able to brainstorm the function of each item and how a worker might use it in his or her job. Especially for young children, props bring more meaning and connection to careers, while increasing an interest and curiosity about each child’s future.”

Those costumes and work props were incorporated into math and social studies lessons in February when Puckett’s Mill kindergartners organized a “community,” in which classrooms were transformed into marketplaces with stores and services. Students ran a “movie theater,” “sold” toys and jewelry, served snacks, and managed a games emporium. Not only did the exercise get students talking about careers and the work world, but the children also practiced valuable money skills, counting and providing change while operating their business.

Counselor Heather Alvira is using a series of guidance lessons and activities to help Minor Elementary students set and meet goals as they prepare for whatever career they pursue. She emphasizes the higher education path that the children must take to the career of their dreams, and helps them assess where they are, then set and meet goals in order to turn dreams into reality.

“Everyone can benefit from the process of self-assessment, exploring career opportunities, and learning effective life skills that can be transferred to job settings,” says Ms. Alvira. “We want to instill in students that the choices they make today have an impact on their future. Goal-setting is a tool that is necessary for our students to be prepared for middle and high school, but also for college and career.”

Later this spring, Minor students in grades 3-5 will have an opportunity to dive deeper into learning about the careers in which they’re interested. They will host guest speakers who will make presentations about their various careers and the students will conduct interviews about careers with friends, family members, and workers in the community. While younger students will explore their work options through career centers, the older students will take career interest surveys to learn more about how their own interests might fit into a career path. With their self-assessment in mind and background from their classroom visitors, the students will take the next step by researching the educational requirements for their chosen career. They’ll look at costs, related majors, types of courses, and the time required to complete the degree associated with the career. College and career dress-up days as well as mock interviews for their dream jobs and a community Career Fair will culminate this career exploration project.

“This is where a career path begins,” says Ms. Alvira. “The students are learning about themselves, exploring careers, and setting goals along the way.”

For 4th and 5th graders at Annistown Elementary, those future careers are a tantalizing goal but their college research gives them a realistic idea of how postsecondary education will make the difference in their career plans.

“It is never too early to expose students to the idea of college,” says Counselor Terri Allen. “Children who get this exposure are more likely to see college as an achievable goal.”

Ms. Allen promotes a college-going culture through classroom activities as well as events for families. Web-based tours of a college campus give 4th and 5th graders a visual picture of the college experience as the students learn how to use the Internet as a research tool for college planning. In groups, the children research the college of their choice, using the information to design college posters and pennants to decorate the walls in the 4th and 5th grade hall. College memorabilia, brochures, and applications are on display in “College Hall” for class tours. Teachers, some in cap and gown, share stories about their alma mater in classroom presentations. This spring, parents and community members will add their college stories during Annistown’s College Fair activities. Parents also will get an opportunity to learn more about college-ready habits and promoting that college-going culture at home.

“When parents set college as an expectation, children don't wonder if they'll go , but where they will go to college,” says Ms. Allen. She encourages parents to start building those expectations early. Among Ms. Allen’s suggestions:
  • Have family conversations about college options and costs;
  • Help children develop the study skills and work habits that will help them be successful in college and life; and
  • Help children develop good life skills, such as perseverance, persistence, and responsibility.
(Check out this tipsheet on creating a college-going culture for your elementary school student at home.)

Of course, preparing for college success—and careers beyond—requires important academic skills. Ms. Smith promotes strong study skills through weekly small-group sessions for Puckett’s Mill students in grades 1-5. “The children learn skills that they’ll need to be academically successful in elementary school as well as middle school, high school, and college,” says Ms. Smith. “Students learn how to listen, how to take notes, and how to study for tests.” She notes that older students learn about their own learning styles as well.

And these skills— and career goals— can be reinforced by mentors, caring adults who meet with students who need extra encouragement and motivation. Ms. Smith says faculty mentors and a group of firefighters working through the county’s FLAME mentoring program are another way to educate children about how school success paves the way to career opportunities… careers like the dream job for that little guy who has his eye on a shiny red fire engine.