By Susan Riddell
March in Kentucky typically means brackets and NCAA basketball.
This year, at public middle and high schools across the state, it has also meant an increased focus on college and career readiness.
In its second year, Operation Preparation has grown from a weeklong event in 2012 to a month long event that connects 8th and 10th graders with community advisors, careers, postsecondary education and training and student goals. The initiative is a joint effort of the Kentucky Department of Education and the Department for Workforce Development.
Many schools, like Boyle County High School, tied March Madness and Operation Preparation together to get students excited about interests and career choices.
Boyle County High’s effort was called Career Madness; guidance counselors and other staff planned throughout the school year for the basketball-themed event that concluded this past Friday.
During a “practice” on Monday, sophomores attended a career fair to get general information on various careers. On Tuesday, they participated in a “game plan” – a career and technical education fair that showcased classes offered at the high school.
Wednesday featured a “pre-game warmup” with sophomores receiving training in interview etiquette, including tips on how they should dress and behave during job interviews. They also worked on how to give a proper handshake, and practiced asking strong, topical questions and listening.
“Game time” was Thursday, when students met with career coaches during 20-minute advising sessions. Following the mentoring sessions, the school held a pep rally led by alumnus and NFL player, Jacob Tamme, and 2009 Miss USA runner-up and model, Maria Montgomery who also graduated from Boyle Co. High School.
For sophomore Chelsee Colyer, Thursday’s career coaching affirmed her desire to be a social worker. Colyer met with Dalton Miller from the Lincoln County Department of Community Based Services. He told her she was “on the right track” to becoming a social worker.
“He really helped,” Colyer said. “He asked about physiology and psychology classes, and I haven’t had those yet. But I’m going to sign up for them.”
Miller also went over salaries and the importance of social workers not taking the job home with them.
Colyer said her conversation with Miller also affirmed something else.
“I definitely need to get my grades up,” she said.
Boyle County High counselor Dana Stigall said there was a wide variety of professions represented that offered something for everyone. A local veterinarian demonstrated how to read animal x-rays while manufacturing, construction, education, arts and humanities, marketing, communications and information technology professionals also talked to students.
“I have been pleasantly surprised by how many community volunteers have been willing to share their time and expertise with our students,” counselor Amy Rhinehart said. “We’re very thankful to have such a generous community of professionals in Boyle and surrounding counties.”
While the Career Madness targeted sophomores, Stigall and Rhinehart made sure other students benefited, too. If a freshman had a special interest that connected with a represented profession, they made sure he or she spent some time with the community adviser who worked in that profession.
Freshmen also received a packet called “Components of the Student ILP,” to get them more familiar with the college and career planning tool known as the Individual Learning Plan (ILP).
Juniors watched a 20-minute glog, or graphics blog, about requirements to be college ready.
Seniors completed surveys about their plans for after high school, participated in group discussions about these plans and viewed a life after high school glog.
“This is the first year we put together something like this,” Stigall said. “We hope that students get that we’re trying to get them excited about college, career and life after high school.”
Like Boyle County High, Dawson Springs (Ind.) High School extended Operation Preparation across grade levels. The small school included all students in grades 7-12 in its career mentoring process. Each student chose three careers and met with mentors in a small group setting. All career mentors were graduates of Dawson Springs High, and ran the gamut, from a state trooper, biochemist and writer to a pharmacist, speech pathologist, nurse and electrician.
“I tried to include something that I believed all students would be interested in,” guidance counselor Lori Wooton said. “I have wanted to do this for a couple of years and finally made it happen this year. I want my students to see successful graduates who have been where they are and how school has impacted their lives.”