Figuring Out The Future
It wasn’t hard for the Sheboygan Falls School District to comply with new state requirements about how to give students and their parents guidance on college and career possibilities. That’s because the district had given itself a head start.
“Most of the required elements we were already invested in, so we felt very positive about our work,” explained Mason White, a learning strategist at Sheboygan Falls Middle School and member of the team that worked on complying with the requirements for ACP (academic and career counseling).
White said the resulting new initiatives that will launch this fall were a matter of “filling in the missing elements” and “doing a better job of promoting the great work we are doing.”
Sheboygan Falls has done such a good job with its ACP efforts that staff will be presenting at a statewide conference this fall.
State law requires all Wisconsin public schools to offer ACP services to all students in grades 6 through 12, starting with the 2017-18 school year. The state Department of Public Instruction suggests that ACP services include specific components such as self awareness activities and individual reflection and goal setting, career assessment awareness and career research, and a plan to link instructional activities with opportunities to learn more about a specific career field.
By going through the ACP process, students will complete an online portfolio that will help them establish long-term goals for life after high school and better connect those goals with their academic coursework and career exploration activities.
“The work that our ACP team is doing complements our district’s mission statement in that it supports students on their own learning paths,” Sheboygan Falls superintendent Jean Born said.
Although ACP activities begin in 6th grade, the goal of the process is not to have students definitely decide on careers or college coursework before they graduate from high school.
“Everything is written in pencil with a great big eraser. We’re not going to lock you into anything,” White said.
A typical 12 or 13-year-old may aspire to be a major league baseball player or a famous rock star, which might seem like unrealistic goals.
“ACP is not telling them they can’t do those things, but what it’s going to take to get there,” White explained.
At the middle school, a big change this fall will be to incorporate ACP into weekly sessions in every classroom in the building during what is called “Falcon Time.” The half period per day is used by teachers to offer enrichment or intervention to students depending on their needs. Now each Wednesday, the students will take part in ACP activities under the direction of their teacher.
“That way we’re making sure that everyone in the building will be getting everything they need,” explained guidance counselor Patrick Uselding, a member of the district’s ACP team. It also fulfills an ACP goal of giving students time with an adult mentor.
As part of the state ACP requirement, districts will be receiving funding for career exploration software. Sheboygan Falls has been using the software, Career Cruising, for some time, which again gives students and parents a head start over their peers elsewhere.
As part of their ACP activities, students investigate the local job market to see what careers are most in demand. They work on financial literacy skills and also compare colleges so they can see what types of programs are offered and how much college tuition can be.
Making college and career planning resources more accessible was a major goal when Sheboygan Falls High School reviewed their ACP services and how they met the new state requirements, said guidance counselor Janis Jarosch.
Staff updated the academic course guide, making more obvious connections between possible careers and the classes students would need to take if they planned to purse those careers.
The academic and career counseling portion of the high school web site was also revamped. In addition to information about potential careers and academic coursework, it also includes information about work-based opportunities available to students – such as job shadowing and youth apprenticeships – as well as information about school organizations and volunteer opportunities that can also provide training for future careers.
The site now includes reflective questions students can ask themselves each year of high school to help them focus on what they would like to do after graduation. A new video overview of ACP is also featured on the site.
The changes make information about ACP “more cohesive and more comprehensive” and should make it easier for parents especially to find what they are looking for, Jarosch said.
She believes the overall result of these changes is to emphasize the district’s wealth of ACP resources.
“It’s all about opportunities,” she said. “We just have so many opportunities for students and families.”