By Brenna R. Kelly
She’s only in 8th grade but Savannah Smith knows she wants to be a biomedical engineer.
“That’s pretty tough to get into,” Bruce Griffis, an assistant biology professor at Kentucky State University told Smith when she sat down at his advising table. “How are you going get (into college)? What are you going do?”
Smith’s answer: “Study a lot.”
Griffis and Li Lu, also an assistant biology professor at KSU, told Smith and three other Anderson County Middle School students at the table – an aspiring doctor, orthodontist and physical therapist – that they should take four years of science in high school, do as much math as they can and, of course, study a lot.
But that’s not enough.
“Make sure that the teachers know who you are,” Griffis said, “because when you go to apply, you’ll need letters of recommendation, someone to vouch for you.”
More than a thousand 8th and 10th graders from four Kentucky school districts visited KSU last week for Operation Preparation, a month-long push designed to get students thinking about life after high school and encourage them to achieve college and career readiness.
Across the state, 160 school districts as well as the Kentucky School for the Blind and Kentucky School for the Deaf are participating in the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and Department of Workforce Development initiative which is now in its fourth year.
“Operation Preparation provides a powerful opportunity for schools and communities to work together in a unified project to support college and career readiness for all of our students,” said Jennifer Smith, a consultant in KDE’s Division of Learning Services. “We want our students to start early preparing for the future, waiting until senior year is too late.”
Though KSU has previously held the event for Franklin County schools, this was the first year that Owen, Shelby and Anderson counties participated.
In addition to advising conferences, students toured the Frankfort campus and attended sessions to learn about financial aid, KEES money, interviewing skills, the importance of the ATC, and options for life after high school.
For the advising conferences, students used the career choices identified in their Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) to match up with a community volunteer to discuss jobs in health sciences, information technology, agriculture and nearly a dozen other fields.
“A lot of our kids are very impressionable in the 8th grade. They don’t really know what options are out there for them,” said Beckey Johnson, Anderson County Middle’s youth service center director. “Maybe some of those kids whose parents didn’t go to college, they will see that there are options out there for them to go to college, there are financial ways to help them.”
Later this month 8th grade students will pick a career major in one of the three schools-within-a-school (STEM, Practical Living and Arts/Humanities) at Anderson County High School. The career major will help determine students’ courses.
“It’s not something they have to complete, but we want them to think about it,” said Bridget Wells, assistant principal at Anderson County High. “Think about it, focus on it, experience it, explore it. If they don’t like it, they can look for something else.”
In addition to the Operation Preparation event at KSU, earlier this month Anderson County 10th graders visited the Harrodsburg Area Technology Center and the Lawrenceburg campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College where they learned about career and technical education and the opportunity to take four classes a year at BCTC.
While the 11th graders took the ATC test, the school allowed college-and career-ready 12th graders to go on a college visit or job shadow, Wells said. The 9th graders spent the day attending advising sessions, some of which were led by 12th graders, about high school opportunities, such as career majors, the governor’s schools and extracurricular activities. .
“We wanted the seniors to give it to them from their perspective,” she said. “They always hear it from the faculty and we wanted them to hear it from the students.”
There are also several advising nights for parents.
Later this month the 8th graders will participate in a Reality Store, an activity designed to show students what it’s like to live and work in the real world, said Alex Hunter, who teaches 8th grade mathematics. Students are assigned jobs and given a salary and bills, including taxes, student loans, utilities, food and other items.
“The goal is when they are done to have money left over to put in the bank,” Hunter said, “and to see if they can take a vacation or are they only able to rent a movie.”
At KSU, the 8th graders seemed to be taking the advising sessions seriously, Hunter said.
“They are 8th-graders, so sometimes they have that glazed-over look,” he said. “But when I was walking around I was very pleased with how engaged the students were with the volunteers.”
As 8th graders Madalynn Henderson and Whitney Griffieth sat down at an advising table with volunteer Arthur McKee who asked them to introduce themselves.
The girls looked down as they quietly mumbled their names.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” he told the girls, and asked them to try again, this time looking him in the eye and speaking up.
“If you don’t learn anything else from me today, learn that first impressions are critical,” he said.
McKee, former executive director of the Office of Minority Affairs at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, urged the girls to begin writing goals for themselves and start resumes.
“At this age, you need to get something in your mind as to where you want to go,” said McKee, who now works as a career counselor at KSU. “This is a good time to start planning.”