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Burrell Introduces “Pathways to Success” program

If the spiraling cost of higher education and record levels of student loan debt aren’t enough to concern today’s high school students and their parents, here are some other facts to consider: The most popular major for college freshmen is “Undeclared.” Nearly 40 percent of college freshman do not complete their FIRST year, and half of college grads take 6 years to complete a 4-year degree.

While Burrell School District administrators and guidance professionals like Sandy Oskin and Brooke Seward can’t do much to prevent college tuition spikes or attrition rates nationally, they are doing their part to help Burrell students be more prepared for life after high school.

In compliance with new PA State Standards for Guidance, Burrell recently adopted a comprehensive K-12 career-to-work model. Burrell’s “Pathways to Success” program is designed to connect district curriculum to careers based on each student’s individual interests and aptitudes. The new program promotes career awareness, job shadowing, research, and academic preparation. It also incorporates a Holland Interest Inventory that helps guide students toward exploring career fields where they may excel.

“We want doors to be open early,” says Mrs. Oskin. “The last thing I want to tell a student in his senior year is that you should have taken this math class, or that science course, if that is what you are interested in. Then, it is too late.” Mrs. Oskin also believes that the career pathways initiative gives more relevance to coursework for students, which in turn translates to better performance. “When students see the relationship between the things that they like in school and what they might want do in the future, they are more likely to work hard in school.”

The five career pathways in the program are: Arts & Communication, Business, Finance & Information Technology, Engineering & Industrial Technology, Human Services, and Science & Health. The course guide provides recommended sequences of core and elective courses for students based on their interests. They are introduced to the guide in 8th grade. It also serves as a good resource for parents to better understand the intent of the “Pathways” program.

The PA State Standards for Guidance suggests introducing career awareness by 5th grade. In Burrell’s elementary schools, educators Denise Schrock and Sharon Storch have introduced an interest inventory program that gets young learners thinking about their futures. In middle school, the guidance department is focusing on job shadowing initiatives and encouraging students to become community volunteers in fields of interest.

“For the younger students, it is not so much that we’re trying to put them on a ‘pathway,’ but the focus is just to expose them more to careers,” says Mr. Seward. “As they move toward the middle school we want them to identify goals, and then beginning in 8th grade, look at possible careers. Obviously, their career ideas and minds may change, but at least we have them thinking.”

Another facet of “Pathways” is challenging the conventional notion that graduating from college is the only way to achieve success. “The mindset that college is your only ticket to success is changing,” says Mrs. Oskin. “Colleges have become so much more expensive than they were 20 years ago. You shouldn’t go to college and then decide what you want to do.”

Mr. Seward says that many students who are hands-on learners will flourish in the career & technical education environment, and they often enter their freshman year already knowing that they want to pursue that option. “Everyone isn’t college-bound, nor should they be,” he explains.

Mr. Seward also says the community college option is more viable today for many students who are undecided, and for those who may want to save some money. “Whether you go to MIT or WCCC, in the first two years of college you are going to take the same types of courses.”

According to both counselors, the common thread of “Pathways” is not to funnel students in a certain career direction, but to make sure that they are aware of their options and optimally prepared for success. “We encourage students to get out there and try something new, challenge themselves, branch out a little bit,” says Mrs. Oskin. “We want our students to take most rigorous courses they can, so whatever path they choose, they’ll have a chance to excel.”

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