Every school’s mission is to make sure students are college and career ready by the time they graduate and take that all-important next step. But how many students actually know the breadth of career choices available to them? Wayne-Westland Community Schools is working to expose students to their future possibilities, and they aren’t waiting until high school to do it, says Daryl Beebe, Executive Director of College and Career Readiness (CCR).
“We really want to create exposure for our students to help them see what possibilities are out there,” Beebe says. “How do they know what they want to become if they don’t have this knowledge?” Beebe says the district is working to fulfill a vision sparked by Superintendent John Dignan. “He always talks about how he wants this for our kids, and he’s passionate about it.”
At Wayne-Westland Community Schools, CCR goes beyond providing access to college counseling and technical education — though these are strong aspects of the initiative. Instead, the district has built, from the ground up, a CCR department with hubs in each high school and a district-wide focus on college and career readiness from elementary school.
Many ways to introduce careers to young students
In a more balanced response to the “college for every student” mantra of the last decade, Wayne-Westland’s CCR efforts provide students with information about different careers and help them understand the paths needed, whether that’s technical training, community college or a four-year university degree.
At the elementary level, members of the CCR teamwork with teachers to help frame classroom experiences from a job or career perspective when practical. “We show them some of the things they are already doing that they may not realize,” Beebe says. When students have classroom jobs, or when they serve as principal for the day, teachers focus not just on the role, but the education, skills and steps needed to do the job.
“A field trip to the apple orchard may not have a career focus, but teachers can talk about who works there and what they do, and also who started the business. Was it an entrepreneur?” Beebe explains. He shares a recent interaction with a crane operator who revealed his passion for his job started in early childhood after reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, a popular children’s book. Connecting the dots, Beebe says, is an important piece at the elementary level.
Tools for students to explore
A new career awareness platform specifically for second through fifth graders called Beable helps young students recognize what they like to do and what they are good at. “Beable has a literacy component, too, that meets kids where they are,” Beebe says. “It really focuses on layers of traits and helps students uncover their abilities and preferences.”
Wayne-Westland students in grades seven through 12 can use Xello, a careers “matchmaker” that, among other attributes, answers many students’ first question, says Beebe — how much money can I make?
“It’s a platform that shares information about what individuals in certain careers do, what they studied in school, their gifts and talents. Students can create their own talent portfolio in Xello, too,” he says.
Frequent field trips further expose students at all grade levels to careers and opportunities. “We visited the engineering building at Eastern Michigan University, which really opened students’ eyes to careers out there, and the skills and salaries connected to those careers,” Beebe says.
Currently, Wayne-Westland CCR is piloting use of a program called Nepris, which provides virtual connections to real individuals doing real-world jobs. “We can connect with any industry and select a speaker who will take students through the work they do. I might even say we’d like to speak with an African American female in a particular role, and they will find a specific person for us to speak with. A theater teacher might ask to speak to someone on Broadway, and they’ll connect us to the individual who plays the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. That’s how powerful it is,” Beebe says.
Continuing the conversation
The CCR department works to elevate conversations about student career and college options through events like March Madness week, when students can dress up for Military Monday, Trades Tuesday, Tycoon Thursday and Final Four Friday. Wednesday will shine light on programs at the district’s William D. Ford Career-Technical Center, which offers 22 immersive educational programs for students in HVAC, manufacturing, automotive technology, digital media, health services and more.
Other events will highlight HBCUs and provide information about how to complete the FAFSA, a must-do task for college applicants and their families.
While CCR support is widely available at private schools, Wayne-Westland Community Schools is leading in the breadth of future-focused initiatives for students at the public school level. A CCR advisory team represents the work at K-5, middle school and high school levels, Beebe says, and the department continually seeks community partnerships.
“We’re really excited about this work and excited about impacting and changing the lives of our students,” Beebe says. “It’s amazing to be able to provide this support to our students.”
Learn more about Wayne-Westland Community Schools at wwcsd.net.