By Susan Riddell
Anne Kline taught high school chemistry for 26 years, and she feels that no matter what teachers teach or how they teach it, the key element in making something memorable and lasting for students is a 1:1 connection.
“The most impactful event in any student’s life is great conversation,” said Kline, who is in her first year as a college- and career-readiness counselor for the Owen County school district. “I don’t care what (the conversations are) about: ‘What kind of relationship are you having with your boyfriend? What are you doing after high school? Your grades are slipping a little bit. Why?’ It’s the 1:1 conversations that have to happen.”
That connection is why Operation Preparation is so important and why it’s proven successful heading into its third year in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Operation Preparation is celebrated each March as statewide 8th graders and high school sophomores get opportunities for 1:1 or small group conversations with community-based mentors, most of whom are working professionals in a wide variety of occupations.
While these conversations and the relationships built off of them are the heart of Operation Preparation, many schools and districts go well beyond that experience.
Owen County Schools, for one, held several events including a college and career fair, bringing a mix of colleges and businesses to talk to students in grades 8-12 about their future plans.
Kline said teachers began working with students before the fair, helping them fill out student engagement sheets used to collect data on interests and goals. The engagement sheets had reminders for engaging questions to ask, and the students also had questions to answer themselves regarding how interested they were in certain careers based on meeting the professionals.
“We feel that this is extremely important,” Kline said.
Kline was excited to see teachers taking advantage of the college and career fair. She said she witnessed several teachers making connections with the community partners with hopes of having them return to their school at a later date to work with students in the classroom.
“This is just as good for the teachers as it is for the students because we’re bringing the connections to them,” Kline said. “Facilitation is huge in this.”
At Maurice Bowling Middle School (Owen County) parents were invited to a spaghetti dinner night where they heard motivational speakers and presentations on the Individual Learning Plan (ILP) and Infinite Campus.
Students also heard from a local chef, a pilot, a forensics technician, an artist, a firefighter and others career professionals.
Browning Springs Middle School (Hopkins County) held its Operation Preparation at the beginning of March.
Family and consumer science teacher Jennie Coyle said teachers played an active role in the school’s event. Teachers encouraged students to treat the mentor sessions like a future job interview, having them learn about appropriate manners, professional attire and even how to offer a proper handshake.
“After the nerves settled, they really enjoyed the conversations they had,” Coyle said of the 8th graders. “Some mentoring sessions have even gone over on their time simply because of high interest level and being able to talk one-on-one with someone in their (interested) career.”
Browning Springs Middle set up an Operation Preparation committee that included the guidance counselor, family resource and youth services center coordinator, family and consumer science teacher and a computer teacher.
“Our goal is for students to be able to talk with two community mentors, Coyle said. “Other teachers are helping create, write and polish the three to five questions the students will be asking their mentor. Teachers are continuing to show interest in the student’s future by encouraging words, asking questions after the mentoring session, and hyping Operation Preparation up to relieve some of the nerves and tension. Eighth grade students tend to be a little shy around adults they don’t know.”
Coyle said her school’s Operation Preparation event has evolved each year, and new mentors always have been welcomed. She said several mentors from three years ago followed an 8th grader as he or she participated in the program again this year as a sophomore.
“This shows the mentor the student growth and maturity throughout the student’s education,” Coyle said. “Mentors have even commented how impressed they were with student questions and responses when talking about careers.”
While KDE’s third Operation Preparation is almost at a close, stakeholders encourage school staff members to start planning now for the next one in March 2015.
Advertising for more mentors is a good place to start. That has worked for Henderson County school district, according to Jinger Carter, district director of accountability and assessment.
“We do a great deal to advertise our program,” Carter said. “We have roughly 1,000 students who we are trying to schedule for individual conversations.”
Carter said the district has put out brochures promoting Operation Preparation, and it created a website. Additionally, Henderson County Schools’ Operation Preparation and use of the individual learning plan are featured in this video.
More than 91 percent of Kentucky public school districts committed to hosting an Operation Preparation event this month.
Staff members at KDE have been pleased with how schools and districts have rolled out their programs and helped students better prepare for their futures.
“The one-on-one and small group advising sessions available to students during Operation Preparation are invaluable,” said Jennifer Smith, a consultant with KDE’s Office of Next-Generation Learners. “We know that student-adult relationships are vital to keeping students in schools and avoiding dropout situations. We are so thankful to all of the community volunteers and school personnel who have worked so diligently to provide this opportunity for our students.”