Teaming Up to Face the Future
Planning for the future is a team effort in the Sheboygan Falls School District.
As part of the district’s comprehensive approach to academic and career planing, students, parents and counselors meet regularly for a series of sessions to evaluate student interests and talents, set goals, assess progress and establish general parameters for post high school success. Known as TEAM Talks, the sessions are held when each student is in fourth, seventh, ninth and eleventh grade.
Ann Roy, the district’s director of student services, believes the meetings create a crucial connection between home and school.
“From elementary school through through middle and high school, TEAM Talks bridge the home-school-community relationship like few other efforts,” Roy explains. “Starting at a young age, TEAM Talks engage students and their families in conversations about how they learn best, what they like to think about and where they want to go and grow. This conversation deepens as our students develop their skills and hone their interests, leading them to their future participation in our greater community.”
As students move through the school system, the talk’s focus and goals shift to match the resources needed by the student at that time. Over time, the hours of planning and monitoring progress provide an invaluable resource that students can take with them whether they go straight into the workplace or on to college or technical training.
“It is a rich, team experience that our parents and students have come to value and appreciate in being certain all children are prepared for the next leg of their learning path,” Roy adds.
At the elementary level, TEAM Talks take place during the spring of a student’s fourth grade year. They focus on a student’s successful transition to middle school.
Britne Stanke, counselor at Sheboygan Falls Elementary School, plans the conferences, which includes discussion of each student’s talents, work habits and goals, as well as presentation of the student’s first ever “learner resume” of academic work.
“Parents are key members of the TEAM Talk Conference; as such, their involvement is tremendously valued and important,” Stanke says.
At the middle school level, TEAM Talks are held during seventh grade. Patrick Uselding, counselor at Sheboygan Falls Middle School, says the conferences are run by the students who begin preparing for the sessions four to six weeks in advance.
During the sessions, they explain to their parents about the state guidelines for Academic and Career Planning and discuss Career Cruising, an online resource that helps students identify interests and talents and possible careers. Each student has a Career Cruising account and parents are also given an account so they can track their student’s progress.
“The Team Talk is not only a great experience for our seventh graders in preparing and running an informal meeting, but it’s a positive experience for the parent/guardian to witness and be a part of with their child,” Uselding says. “Not only is it exciting to see some families having one of their first conversations about future plans right in my office, but it’s also a pleasure to see the sense of pride in many parents’/guardians’ faces when they realize that their child is already well on their way to making their future dreams come true!”.
Students have TEAM Talks during their freshman and junior years at Sheboygan Falls High School. Counselor Ben Koepsell says the freshman conference is a chance for him to get to know individual students. He talks to them about Career Cruising as well as other resources such as INSPIRE Sheboygan County and various work-based learning opportunities like job shadowing and apprenticeships. During students’ junior years, the TEAM Talks go deeper into specifics of academic and career planning and talk about college applications and the ACT and SAT standardized tests if students are interested in pursing higher education after graduation.
“Overall, I enjoy the TEAM Talks because they allow me to get to know the students and the families that I’m working with and help meet their individual needs,” Koepsell says.
Counselor Janis Jarosch uses freshman TEAM Talks to help students set goals for their academic and career planning explorations. During the junior TEAM Talk, students assess their progress towards those goals and choose course work and work based learning experiences that will help them reach those goals.
“The mission of TEAM Talks is for each student to make informed decisions for his/her future no matter where his/her path leads,” Jarosch says, adding that parents and guardian are an “extremely important part of the process.”
“I feel these talks are especially valuable to parents if this is their first child through high school because it provides them with the available tools and resources and an opportunity to ask questions,” Jarosch says.
And parents are involved. Mary Lofy Blahnik, the district’s director of instruction, says she is “always impressed with the high percentage of parent turnout at TEAM Talks each school year.”
“I think it speaks highly to the caliber of the time spent with families and the parent interest in supporting students on their learning paths,” she says.
Sheila Wolfington and her ninth grade daughter, Tessa, recently had their TEAM Talk with Koepsell. Wolfington said she appreciated learning about all the resources available to her daughter.
“I learned about the career website and how Tessa can get help learning about careers and job shadowing opportunities,” Wolfington said. “I feel this helped Tessa learn more about her future schedule as well as other classes she should try while she is in high school.”
Jessica Carpenter recently attended her son Cayden’s freshman TEAM Talk. She says she found it particularly helpful because it gave her insights into what to expect as Cayden progressed through high school.
“I think it was good to give us a good understanding of options and resources that exist,” Carpenter says. “For example, job shadowing -- as a parent you don't really know what options are out there to help your child sort of trying to plan for their future. I also think it's a good time for the student if they're struggling in a certain area to talk about it.”
After all, a little teamwork goes a long way.