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Building a clear career path in New Berlin schools

Revisions try to help students find their way earlier

Jan. 20, 2014

New Berlin — To better help middle and high school students explore their career options and find their life's work, New Berlin schools have implemented several changes in related programs.

The academic and career revisions were presented to the New Berlin School Board last week and were to be presented to parents this week at a parents information night.

One element will prompt all seventh-graders to create a presentation on their career exploration as they learn some lessons from a mandatory course.

Course and parental help

Unlike the other career programs that are voluntary, every seventh-grader will have to attend a new careers and communications course that will have them answer four questions: Who am I? What do I want to do? What do I have to do to get there? What am I actually doing to get there?

In addition, another innovation central to the career planning effort is involving parents in a more robust way than before. In their seventh-grade career exploration, students will fill out an academic and career planning guide worksheet.

"This enables parents to sit with their students and work on it together," said Melinda Mueller, district director of communications.

It would also give parents a clearer picture of how their students' course choices fit into what they are interested in for potential careers, Mueller said.

Ongoing career guidance

To help students see exactly how different courses fit into various life paths, school officials have developed a Programs of Study Guide gathering careers into 16 career clusters.

The guide gives information on each cluster complete with courses needed and additional learning experiences that would help a student get ahead in those areas.

For many years the schools have offered students help narrowing down career possibilities by using an online package called WISCareers, which has an interest and skills assessment aimed at revealing aptitudes, said Larry Lueck, director of personalized learning.

But this coming year, school officials will emphasize checking back with WISCareers every so often to recheck interests and potential career paths. To trigger those rechecks, officials are working on touchstones for grades from middle school through high school, Mueller said.

While they don't want students to develop an academic and career plan in seventh grade and then forget about careers until they graduate, neither do they want students to feel trapped in a career path, she said.

They want students to see how courses may align with different careers so they can make helpful course selections, Mueller said. For example, if students are interested in two careers, they should see how courses might fit into both.

"We don't want students to feel trapped in any one field of study," Mueller said.

Hands-on lessons

Once students decide the basic field they would like, the schools will try to offer more opportunities for vocational instruction.

The Dual Enrollment Academy, part of a pilot project for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction offered for the first time this year, has students attending WCTC from 8 a.m. to noon and high school in New Berlin in the afternoon.

This year, the career focus is on information technology. Next year, it will be on welding, fabrication, tool and die, and printing and publishing.

Realizing the importance of hands-on experiences, a revamped work-based learning program with apprenticeships and internships and other elements will be instituted this fall, and a service learning program will be revived. The schools will make use of the relationships the schools have built with local businesses, Lueck said.

In addition to expanded educational offerings at WCTC, the New Berlin schools will offer a number of new courses — such as computer programming and Exploring Computer Science II — aimed at filling gaps that were found in academic and career offerings, Mueller said.

The various revisions coming this fall are meant to work with aspects of the careers program that are already in place.

Those include Academic and Careering Planning Night held at both high schools, Career Days and the Course Offering Guide. That guide shows how each course aligns to career programs, lists graduation requirements, tells about academic and career planning services, and lists course offerings both at the schools and outside the schools.

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