Solutions: Career Guidance for Middle Schools

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As the global economy continues to expand and become increasingly complex, as industries develop more and more specialization, a response to that age old question asked so often of youth ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ can seem perplexingly impossible, especially if they have not had adequate academic preparation.

Many STW systems ask students on entering high school to quickly pick a ‘career path’ or career major for their studies so that they can get a head start on preparing for adult careers. But before students can choose they must have a good understanding of the choices available. At a middle school in a small town in the nation’s heartland, administrators are making sure students begin career exploration before they walk through the doors of their high school. Each eighth grader at La Mars Community Middle School in La Mars, Iowa, must take a special “Career Program” course.

During each four and a half week session Mary Snyder, the school’s guidance counselor, engages 16 to 30 students in a variety of activities designed to help them begin considering different types of career opportunities and help them assess their own strengths and interests. One of those activities, according to Snyder, is that students all spend some time playing the “Real Game.” This game is a kit modeled after common role playing games. In this one though, students must choose a profession based on an assessment of their own talents and interests. An annual income is assigned to each participant based on their chosen occupation. Students learn about deductions and net income. They must prepare a monthly budget including expenses for a home and transportation costs and even make plans for a vacation.

“Some kids are employed full time, some own their own businesses, some are seasonal workers. It’s a mix of different kinds of occupations,” said Snyder. “I continually compare it to their neighborhood at home. You don’t have all doctors in your neighborhood. You have a little bit of everything and people are going to work at different times. I think it gives them a hands-on experience of life in the adult work world. They are pretty surprised by a lot things.” Job shadow The students also do a brief job shadow with a nearby business. The shadowing is short, lasting for no more than one day and often only a half a day. It’s designed mainly to give students a brief taste of daily routine at a job.

Most students pick the work site they want to visit although some require a little more help than others in determining an occupation in which they are interested, said Snyder. “Ideally they come with ideas of their own,” she explained. If not “we just talk about what are things that you are already interested in? What kinds of things do you like to do at home or out of school? Then we try to make some connections.” Students must do research in the library before their shadow and bring with them a list of questions to gather additional information.