West Virginia University President Gordon Gee spoke with juniors and seniors at Jefferson and Washington High Schools last month. While extolling the benefits of an education at WVU, the overall message he delivered is one that resonates with many working in education today: education beyond high school is more important than ever. Gee made it clear that whether it’s community college, trade school, or a four-year degree, some sort of training is critical.
Still, simply pushing students to further their education without taking individual circumstances into account is rarely in the best interest of students. That’s why every effort is made to help align students with careers that fit their skill set, interest, and ability.
A good deal of that work begins before students reach high school, because success at the high school level is an essential part of the equation for long-term success in the workforce. As part of laying the groundwork for that, Jefferson County seventh and eighth graders are exposed to a variety of skills and career opportunities through two rotations of elective courses designed to help with career exploration and decision making.
In seventh grade, students build an online portfolio using the College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV) platform. It helps them prepare for making decisions about education after high school. Students and their families can plan, apply, and pay for education or training beyond high school with the online toolkit. Students also do interest inventories, career searches, learning style and study habit surveys, and search for colleges and scholarships using the website.
In eighth grade, components of the Introduction to Career Clusters curriculum provide exposure and information regarding a variety of career and educational opportunities. This curriculum is designed to assist students in selection of a Career Cluster as part of their Personalized Education Plan, and in planning a high school course of study. Middle school students may also get a hands-on experience with participation in the James Rumsey Career Exploration program, more commonly known as Career Van. It visits all the area middle schools and introduces students to the offerings at James Rumsey Technical Institute.
Once in high school, students have even more opportunity to develop career goals and pick up skills they can use beyond graduation. Jefferson County Schools offers student-training in Microsoft Certifications and OSHA 10 certification. Participants can also gain college credits while still in high school thanks to dual enrollment agreements with Shepherd University, Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, and James Rumsey. Plus, Jefferson County Schools works with the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce to participate in activities such as The High School Business Symposium and Job Shadowing opportunities.
But challenges remain throughout West Virginia; progress has been difficult to track as assessment tools have changed. Last year, high school juniors took the SAT as a performance measure, but for the three years prior, performance was measured on the West Virginia General Summative Assessment (WVGSA). While the proficiency rate has gone up eight percent since the 2014-2015 school year, it is not an apples to apples comparison.
Preparing students for life beyond the classroom remains a focus for Jefferson County Schools. Starting with a good foundation in middle school, teachers work hard to make sure students are ready to succeed in high school and have the resources necessary to take the next step.
— Hans P. Fogle is the Jefferson County Schools Public Information Officer