Career literacy can no longer be a concern after education. Although career plans have long been promoted in the United States, we are clearly not doing enough, especially for girls and students from low-income and minority backgrounds who, research tells us, tend to limit their aspirations. The earlier we focus on career literacy, the better.
Career literacy, when introduced early in life, can successfully challenge the concept of self-limitation. One way to overcome the lack of information and equip students for post-secondary decision making is to give them the opportunity to explore different career paths. Exploring different fields of career helps to prepare them for both career and college. It’s a way to provide young students with the tools to achieve their goals – and in many cases, higher goals.
At the Western Mericopa Education Center (West-MEC), Arizona, a career and technical education (CTE) school district, high school students and adult students go through rigorous programs to prepare for a demand-driven career. Since CTE focuses on hands-on learning and post-secondary preparation, it is a key component of career literacy. It nurtures active learning, imparts professional skills and prepares students for transformation into a workforce or higher education. Indeed, a report from the U.S. Department of Education noted that students participating in the CTE program graduated from high school at a higher rate than their peers who did not participate and earned higher wages eight years after graduation.
In West-MEC, in contrast to a traditional school district, residents are not automatically considered part of the district based on their location but must be formally elected by a ballot. West-MEC provides career training programs for high school students, assisting elementary school district members through innovative career literacy initiatives. Each year, West-MEC allocates significant amounts of money to our two primary school districts.
Usually, secondary school is when many students drop out of school – this trend continues when they go to high grade. During this time in their lives, students are still developing the ability to think critically and prefer active learning. Research and feedback on career literacy initiatives have shown that early education introduces students to focus on their strengths and helps them stay employed through middle and high school despite various socio-economic barriers.
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At West-MEC, we focus our outreach on three main areas: financing CTE activities in middle schools and summer camps, and connecting industry partners with member schools.
Pendergast Elementary School District, for example, provides Python and other coding classes for high school students to improve the science program. The West-MEC Fund has helped high school students learn code at a higher level and more hands-on. Gwyneth Marr, head of the Villa de Paz coding program, said: “Our middle school students can write line codes and have earned certificates that set them apart from other students who have access to computer science.” We also fund Makerspace, where students can visualize ideas and reinforce learning through hands-on projects.
Our summer camps have come to life after a break. In response to the massive student isolation caused by epidemic-related stress and online learning, teachers in Pendergast district requested a camp that would strengthen the mathematics learned within the year. The camp introduces eighth graders to coding and avionics. Through breadboard and robot-racing competitions, students have seen the practical application of mathematics. The impact of the event was evident when a girl who had not soldered the wires to the circuit board succeeded thirty minutes later.
Career literacy, when introduced early in life, can successfully challenge the concept of self-limitation.
We connect industries with primary and secondary schools to host sessions to showcase new and exciting work opportunities. For example, the STEM Academy in the Littleton Elementary School District has partnered with Phoenix Raceway, which provides students with information about a curriculum, field trips, and the various careers available at the company. The Arizona Masonry Council and Building Talent Foundation are preparing to talk to Starlight Park Elementary School students about opportunities in the construction industry for their Career Fair Day.
During the school year, CTE students and staff teach young students about the practical application of lessons learned in class. Recently, one of our staff members visited the Littleton Fine Arts Academy, an elementary school, to help students prepare for the construction of their “Matilda the Musical, Jr.” Emerging theater enthusiasts learned how to use precision-measuring instruments and worked through fractions as they brought their set to life.
The collaboration of educators, industry partners and community members to nurture the next generation is exciting. We work to close learning gaps so that students can dream big for a future unhindered by stereotypes and lack of opportunities.
As West-MEC’s primary and community liaison, I have the privilege of seeing the impact that these career learning experiences have had on young students. Career literacy helps students understand their goals, likes and dislikes. It connects education with real life. At the end of the day, it is essential that students find their purpose so that they can realize their dreams – whatever those dreams may be.
With its long-term effects, career literacy should no longer be considered after education.
Rahsan Bertett is a Community and Primary Communication School in West-MEC, Arizona, a vocational and technical education school district.
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