ERIC Identifier: ED475388
Publication Date: 2003-06-00
Author: Marcos, Kathleen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Gearing-Up for Career Awareness: Profile of a Middle School
Career Program. ERIC/CASS Digest.
Throughout the last decade, researchers have recommended that career
exploration and awareness begin before high school, when students have already
made major decisions about courses (Castellano et. al, 2002; Fouad, 1995;
O'Brien, et. al, 1999; Toepfer Jr., C.F., 1994). In many cases, students
passively follow career paths simply by not choosing from their high school
classes the courses needed for technical or other careers. To encourage students
to make informed decisions, middle schools must introduce career awareness, such
as the concept that success in most careers requires education and training
(Fouad, 1995). As the National Alliance of Business recommended in its 1999
publication Preparing Young People for Tomorrow's Workplace, "Middle school is
an ideal age at which to expose students to the challenging world of work"
In their article Broadening Career Horizons for Students in At-Risk
Environments, O'Brien et al. (1999) state that "Few middle schools adequately
address the career development of students in at-risk environments despite
evidence to indicate that interventions can enhance academic performance,
facilitate high school completion, and encourage postsecondary education"
(p.216). Because students who drop out of high school often begin to disconnect
in middle school or earlier, interventions that give the school experience focus
and meaning are critical (Castellano et al., 2002).
Elements of successful career awareness programs have been described in
numerous publications (Kerka, 2000; Maddy-Bernstein, 1997; Toepfer, 1997;
Toepfer, 1994). Interest inventories and aptitude tests, field trips, Career
Days, and community partnerships are among the tools that can increase students'
awareness of their own interests and help them learn about a wide variety of
occupations (Hogan, 1995). As students gain understanding of the preparation
needed for specific careers, they may begin to consider the role that
postsecondary education and training could play in their futures.
This article describes how Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County, Virginia
has been implementing these recommendations with funding from a US Department of
Education GEAR-UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate
Programs) grant. GEAR-UP Glasgow's career education model is based on reviews of
the literature and consultation with the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)
Career Connections office.
THE GEAR-UP GLASGOW PROGRAM
The US Department of Education
GEAR-UP program aims to increase the number of low-income students prepared to
enter postsecondary education (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). Glasgow has
a large population of at-risk students, including many English language
learners. Approximately 70% of students receive free or reduced lunch.
At Glasgow, GEAR-UP sponsors summer and after-school programs, tutoring, and
other activities. A key component of the program focuses on career awareness.
Since April 2001, GEAR-UP has funded a full-time Career Center Specialist, and
has purchased computers, software, and print resources. Key elements of the
initiative are described below.
CAREER INVENTORY SOFTWARE
All 6th, 7th , and 8th graders
complete computer-based interest inventories. Career inventories help students
articulate their interests and identify matching careers. Working with these
self-assessment tools is an important early step in career awareness made
possible through the availability of a mobile computer lab with 20 wireless
laptops. The Career Center Specialist brings the lab to students in their
classrooms and conducts the lesson during regularly scheduled classes.
Glasgow uses CX Online and Choices software from Bridges, Inc. The programs
prompt students to answer questions about their interests, then offers career
ideas. Next, students research one occupation to determine the training and
education required and the salary range. Use of the software occurs in the
context of a lesson describing education options (two-year college, four-year
college, advanced degree, military training, apprenticeships, and other
on-the-job training) and an explanation that postsecondary education is
available and affordable for all.
Articulated lesson plans from Career Connections Across the Curriculum for
Middle School Students (Fairfax County Public Schools, 2001) have been
implemented at each grade level. Additional units have also been developed as
needed. For 6th graders, activities include general discussions and completion
of the CX Online Career Finder inventory, followed by research on specific
careers. Seventh graders complete personal timelines and occupational family
trees. Eighth graders have worked on electronic budgeting programs; given
themselves "performance evaluations"; viewed videos about work habits; and
learned how to search for part-time jobs. Both 7th and 8th grade classes have
researched jobs using online newspaper classified ads at www.washingtonpost.com,
www.nytimes.com, and other sites.
INTEGRATION OF CAREER EDUCATION INTO THE CURRICULUM
them connect the subjects they study to the workplace, students learn about
careers in areas such as science, math, social studies, foreign language, art,
and music. A typical lesson begins with a brainstorming activity in which
students suggest careers in the subject area. Next, the Career Specialist makes
additional suggestions and describes the education and training needed for
various careers. Lessons conclude with students researching one or more careers.
For example, working with 7th grade social studies teachers, the Career
Specialist developed a lesson that tied into study of 19th and early 20th
century entrepreneurs. Students learned about jobs during that time period, then
learned how employment has evolved, concluding the lesson by researching a
modern-day job requiring the use of technology.
GEAR-UP Glasgow organized and implemented Career
Days in November 2001 and October 2002, bringing almost 150 speakers from
businesses, organizations, government agencies, and the local community to speak
to approximately 1,200 students. In small groups, students heard three speakers
discuss their work, their education levels, and the experiences that led them to
choose their careers. Groups have been small enough to allow speakers to share
personal experiences and entertain questions. Among the speakers were airline
pilots, information technology specialists, lawyers, nurses, a congressman, a
meteorologist, veterinarians, artists, sports professionals, journalists,
restaurant managers, and construction workers. Career Day was fully supported by
teachers, who introduced the speakers and remained in classrooms. Several
teachers and counselors also shared their work experiences.
Further building on the idea that adult
role models motivate students to achieve, GEAR-UP Glasgow holds career
assemblies to bring to school professionals who describe their work and
education. Speakers discuss the experiences that inspired them or obstacles they
overcame. For example, a theater director discussed his experiences as an
immigrant from Cuba who became a successful professional in the US. He spoke to
two groups in English and to another-a group of recent Latino immigrants-in
Spanish, encouraging all to work hard and go to college. Other professionals who
met with Glasgow students included police officers, marketing specialists,
engineers, accountants, a Washington Redskins Coach, and a TV news reporter.
One particularly fruitful
partnership with a local hospital resulted in a "Groundhog Job Shadow" experience for the students. Participants visited the Cardiac Critical Care,
maternity, and pediatric units. Another result of this relationship has been
Glasgow's participation in a summer nursing camp. GEAR-UP encourages attendance
by promoting the camp to students and parents. The experience offers
opportunities to observe patient care and surgery. Students learn to take vital
signs and understand what they mean. Nursing camp gives young people a clear
picture of the profession.
COLLEGE PLANNING WORKSHOP
In 2002 and again in 2003, the
Career Center has sponsored workshops to help parents plan and save for college.
GEAR-UP organized the workshops, provided speakers (in English and Spanish),
provided an interpreter for Arabic-speaking families, and offered dozens of
handouts. The speakers described postsecondary options; explained the concept of
expected family financial contribution to college costs; and discussed
scholarships. Parents were given valuable planning information years before they
would have otherwise received it. To ensure that all Glasgow parents had access
to these resources, program staff mailed families key handouts and a summary of
the discussion in English and Spanish.
During both full years of the grant, 7th
grade students at Glasgow have visited the campus of George Mason University in
Fairfax, Virginia to tour classrooms, learn about student life, and eat lunch
with college students. By helping middle school students visualize the college
experience, GEAR-UP Glasgow helps them see themselves as college bound. The
experiences have left many students considering a future that includes
Web pages (www.fcps.edu/GlasgowMS/career) provide
information for parents and the community about the mission of the GEAR-UP
Career Center and provide links to FCPS and national resources on careers and
college. Students can also link to the CX Online program to continue career
exploration at home.
To help our many at-risk students relate
academic achievement to success at work, GEAR-UP Glasgow has implemented
recommendations made by career education experts. Students have responded
enthusiastically to the initiatives undertaken thus far, completing career
inventory programs; learning about careers in subject areas; attending Career
Days and assemblies; job shadowing; visiting colleges; and using career
resources at the school Web site. Through mailings and workshops, GEAR-UP
Glasgow also reaches out to the parents who are such a critical part of its
Many resources exist to help middle schools implement these and other
programs. While financial considerations may limit the size and scope of the
initiatives undertaken, career awareness experiences are essential for students
to learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
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GEAR-UP home page at http://www.ed.gov/gearup.