by Heidi L. Everett
What do you want to be when you grow up? A new program in District 742 high schools hopes to help answer that question for students before they graduate.
Today, many students make their post-high school decisions off what they know.
“Most of the time, it’s careers which students have been exposed to,” explained Leah Sams, the district’s career and college pathways director. “They want to be a teacher. They want to be whatever their parents are. They want to be singers. They want to be movie stars. Whatever the exposure is, it usually tightly aligns.”
The new Career and College Academies program, announced at the Oct. 6 board of education work session, is designed to introduce students to a wide selection of career fields.
The three academies were determined based off the Minnesota Department of Education Career Wheel as well as collaborative planning with representatives from 20 local employers, local higher education institutions and service organizations.
The BECA Academy represents business, entrepreneurship, communication and arts. This academy aims to foster innovation, expression and creativity for a variety of fields, including sales and marketing, business management, accounting, visual arts, performing arts, information technology, programming and software development or communication technology.
Health, Human Services and Hospitality Academy exposes students to career options in medicine, health and wellness, child and human development, education, law enforcement and tourism, among others. This academy benefits students who have a passion to help others and make a difference in the world. The HHH academy is billed as a good fit for students who recognize the value of service and hear the call for helping others.
Finally, the MENR Academy offers manufacturing, engineering and natural resources job exposure to help students prepare for career and college success through high-skill and high-tech areas. Students in this academy will work with raw materials and equipment. They may design a new product, create a prototype or build following existing plans. Some of the pathways students can explore in this academy are architecture, construction, transportation, production, landscaping, and agribusiness.
Gail Cruikshank, talent director for Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., was instrumental in creating the Career and College Academies program with the district.
“There are many different pathways into the labor market, and it can be hard to know which job is right for each individual student,” she said. “Students participating in the academies will be able to practice job skills to help them identify what they enjoy and what they excel at. In a sense, they can try a job on for size.”
Cruikshank noted employers in central Minnesota offer more than 278,000 jobs, and at the time of the presentation, more than 8,000 jobs were posted on Greater St. Cloud Job Spot.
The academies are flexible in that students can always change their mind about a chosen path.
The Career and College Academies are just a part of a larger effort.
Currently in District 742, career exploration starts in middle school through academic interests, personal strengths and career-focused content. The district has logged three years of data from middle school students who’ve been more exposed to career options. Data shows improved perceptions of the work and opportunities available.
In addition, the district recognizes the importance of students’ support networks in making career decisions. A recent survey showed students identified “family” as a leading determiner of career choice. To that end, the district will be hosting “EPIC for Influencers” in 2022, so families and support networks can learn more about potential careers in the region.
Students have been able to select three EPIC courses (exploring potential interests and careers) starting in ninth grade. These EPIC courses, now, will feed into the academies for advanced course work and opportunities throughout high school, including job shadowing, internships, employer tours, hands-on application and more.
“You can see the lightbulb moment, if you will, go off in all students, especially those who haven’t been exposed to different areas,” Sams said. “When a student gets to practice welding, just doing a spot weld, and sparks are flying in their face, and they realize they just created something. It’s an amazing thing.”