Career literacy can no longer be an idea in education. Although career planning has long been promoted in the United States, we are clearly not doing enough, especially for low-income girls and students and from minorities who, research tells us tend to limit their aspirations. The sooner we focus on professional literacy, the better.
Career literacy, if introduced at an early age, can successfully challenge self-limiting ideas. One way to equip students to overcome the lack of information and make informed decisions about higher education is to give them the opportunity to explore different ways of working. Exploring different areas of careers helps prepare them for both careers and college education. It is also a way of providing young students with the tools to achieve their goals – and in many cases – higher ones.
У Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), the School of Career and Technical Education (CTE) in Arizona, high school students and adult learners undergo rigorous programs to become ready for a sought-after career. Because the CTE focuses on practical training and preparation for higher education, it is a key component of career literacy. It fosters active learning, provides professional skills and prepares students for the transition to the workforce or higher education. In fact, a U.S. Department of Education report notes that students who participated in CTE programs graduated from high school in higher rate than their peers who did not participate and received higher salaries eight years after graduation.
In West-MEC, unlike a traditional school district, residents are not automatically considered part of the county depending on their location, but must formally participate in the election. While West-MEC provides training programs for high school students, it also supports elementary school district members through innovative professional literacy initiatives. Every year West-MEC allocates a significant amount of money to our two primary school districts.
Typically, in high school, many students drop out of school – a trend that continues as they move into the upper grades. During this period of their lives, students still develop the ability to think critically and prefer active learning. Research and reviews of career literacy initiatives have shown that implementing early-career careers helps students stay busy in high school and high school despite a variety of socioeconomic barriers, focusing on their strengths.
At West-MEC, we focus our activities in three main areas: funding CTE activities in high schools and summer camps, and connecting industry partners with member schools.
For example, Pendergast Primary School County provides Python High School students with other coding classes to improve the science program. West-MEC funding has helped high school students learn to code at a high level and in a more practical way. Gwyneth Marr, who heads the Villa de Paz coding program, said: “Our high school students can write a string code and have received credentials that distinguish them from other students who have had access to computer science.” We also fund creation spacewhere students can visualize concepts and reinforce learning through hands-on projects.
Our summer camps came back to life after a break. In response to the widespread disengagement of students due to pandemic-related stressors and online learning, teachers in Pendergast County requested a camp that would reinforce the math gained during the year. The camp introduced eighth-graders to coding and avionics. Through mock-ups and robot competitions, students saw practical applications of mathematics. The impact of the event was evident when the girl, who had never soldered the wires to the circuit board, succeeded in thirty minutes.
Career literacy, if introduced at an early age, can successfully challenge self-limiting ideas.
We also connect industries with primary and secondary schools to hold sessions to demonstrate new and exciting job opportunities. For example, Littleton’s STEM County Elementary School Academy collaborated with Phoenix Raceway, which provided students with curriculum, field trips, and information on the various professions available in the company. The Arizona Freemasonry Council and the Building Talent Foundation are preparing to talk to Starlight Park Elementary School students about opportunities in the construction industry on the day of the Career Fair.
During the academic year, CTE students and staff teach younger students the practical application of lessons learned in the classroom. Recently, one of our staff visited an elementary school at the Littleton Academy of Fine Arts to help students prepare for the staging of “Musical Matilda Jr.”. Beginner theater enthusiasts have learned to use precision measuring instruments and worked out fractions, reviving their set.
The collaboration of educators, industry partners and community members to educate the next generation is exciting. We are working to close learning gaps so that students can dream big dreams for the future without being hindered by stereotypes and lack of opportunities.
As a liaison with the West and MEC community, I was privileged to see the effect this career experience had on young learners. Career literacy helps students understand their goals, likes and dislikes. It connects education with real life. After all, it is very important that students find their goal so that they can realize their dreams – no matter what those dreams look like.
Due to long-term impact, career literacy should no longer remain second in education.
Rahsan Bartet is a community and initial liaison officer of West-MEC, a career and technical school district in Arizona.