Ever asked a kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up? I love that game. I hear responses such as firefighters, doctors, mommies, teachers; you name it. One little girl told me she wanted to be a doctor, the president and a jeweler; she just wasn’t sure she’d have time to be all three.
The goal of education is to produce young people who are fully prepared for the workforce that awaits them outside of high school or college and to help them become fully engaged, productive citizens. We in common education sometimes loose sight of this ultimate goal and set our sites only on the next frame in the unfolding picture of a child’s life – college. The end goal, however, is to prepare a student so they can find a job that pays them an adequate salary, makes the best use of their talents and skills, and satisfies their passion.
Education Week’s 2013 Quality Counts report, which was released this week, gave Oklahoma an A+ in the category of Economy and Workforce. The grade is awarded on the criteria of the state having a definition of work readiness, offering a high school diploma with career specialization, having a path in K-12 for industry-recognized certificate or license, and offering portable credits for K-12 students to earn career tech credits toward post-secondary education.
I was pleased to see this grade, but I know there is more to be done in preparing our students for their future careers. Part of this is we must work to incorporate more career counseling and work skills training in our common education experience.
To this end, I was excited to see a report this week detailing a Career Pathways Pilot Project taking place in Duncan Public Schools. The goal of the program is to help students in the district develop a post-high school action plan that will help them determine their career pathways. Through participation, students will gain an awareness of their personal strengths, challenges and opportunities that will set them on a path of intentional instruction and guidance prior to high school graduation to ready them for college or career. The plan contains actions for students at all educational levels from elementary to high school.
The program is a collaboration between the Southwest Oklahoma Impact Coalition, a regional economic development entity; the Oklahoma Department of Commerce; the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation; the Red River Technology Center; and GEAR Up/Oklahoma Higher Education Regents. Duncan was considered perfect for the pilot because of the city’s robust manufacturing sector as well as a strong healthcare community. Duncan also has a technology center, a branch campus for higher education and a competent economic development organization.
The first meeting for the program drew more than 100 people, from employers, to teachers, counselors, cross agency partners, and members from the community – all working together toward the goal of preparing students for their futures of college or career.
I want to commend Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer and the Duncan Public School Board for implementing this program. I will be anxious to hear the outcome of the pilot. I hope other communities will consider emulating it. When we’ve prepared each student in Oklahoma for the rigors and challenges of the future work place, then we will truly have cause to celebrate.