MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- When Jackson Middle School Resource Officer Adam Jones was asked to teach a class in fall 2021, he immediately connected with West Virginia University Extension’s Wood County 4-H agent Jodi Smith to see how they might partner to deliver a course focused on careers.
As eighth graders begin to transition to high school, they must select courses they want to take related to career paths, and often students don’t have enough information to try to make these important decisions. The partnership blended well with WVU Extension’s goal of strengthening educational opportunities to help young people gain the tools and resources they need to determine their future career path.
Working with Jamie Mullins, the WVU Extension 4-H agent in Calhoun and Gilmer counties, Smith and Jones rolled out “Seeing Yourself in the Future,” a career exploration course developed by a group of Extension faculty which includes nine classes focused on hands-on learning. During the classes at Jackson Middle School, students learn about different job opportunities, resume building, dressing for success, job interviews and more.
WVU Extension faculty developed the curriculum for the 4-H program, but the partnership with Jackson Middle provided an opportunity to expand the career readiness program to a larger audience and address post-secondary education needs in West Virginia. In addition to Wood County, WVU Extension Marshall County 4-H agent Lisa Ingram offered the curriculum at Cameron Middle School. During the 2021-22 academic year, more than 125 seventh and eighth grade students in these counties participated in the program.
Smith noted that this is not your typical career readiness program.
“This workforce program is designed to introduce career exploration at an earlier age in middle school and early high school. Students participate in hands-on lessons that are focused on experiential learning. In addition to learning about college and career exploration resources, students learn about their personality styles, how to gain essential workplace skills, how to set goals for the future, and what to expect at a job interview. The objective of the program is to prepare youth and give them tools that will lead to post-secondary success," Smith explained.
Craig, an eighth grade student at Jackson Middle School and future sports broadcaster, was surprised by how much he enjoyed the classes.
“It was one of my favorite classes I ever had throughout middle school. I am actually going to use the information, especially for the career I want to have. This is the best thing for me to learn what I need to do.”
Giving students some of the knowledge and skills they need heading into high school gives them skills, knowledge and a strong foundation they need to be successful.
“Through this program, we are enabling youths to make more informed choices in their high school course selections, as well as building skills that are essential in today’s workforce. They learn soft skill development, including critical thinking, communication, and adaptability—these skills are the ones that employers desire over technical skills. Today’s employer wants a person that ‘fits’ in their organization,” Ingram explained.
“Seeing Yourself in the Future” has been well received by school administrators, teachers and others. This year (2022-23), the program is being piloted in seven counties to more than 700 students, including schools in Hampshire, Marshall, Mingo, Monongalia, Nicholas, Wayne and Wood counties.
The pilot project has gained national interest from other Cooperative Extension organizations in Florida, New Jersey and Ohio. Using the curriculum developed by WVU Extension faculty, these groups are piloting similar programs in their own states and will be part of the overall evaluation of the program moving forward.
The project also received a $5,000 incubation grant from the Extension Foundation’s New Technologies for Ag Extension to further plan, test and expand the pilot program.
“Last year WVU Extension conducted a needs assessment survey with West Virginia’s decisionmakers, including members of local school boards, community leaders, legislators and others to identify the state’s most pressing needs. Career readiness for youths ranked at the top of the list,” Mullins said. “We already had a team of agents focused on post-secondary success, including this career readiness program, so we were ahead of the game. The research further solidified the importance of this type of programming for West Virginia’s young people. We hope that we can continue to grow and offer this program to youths statewide.”
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