By Brenna R. Kelly
Kurtland Bishop is torn. Should he go to college to become a psychologist or join the U.S. Army?
“This is one of the world’s greatest countries, so why not defend it?” said the Henry County Middle School 8th-grader. “With psychology, you can open up someone’s mind to see what might be ailing them in a mental way. That would be very interesting.”
Thanks to Operation Preparation, Bishop now knows he doesn’t have to choose. He can major in psychology in college and join the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC).
Nocomis Miner, a Kentucky State University student and ROTC cadet, explained that he has a double major – criminal justice and sociology – and double minor – military science and speech.
“The fact that these students are already thinking about higher education and careers, that’s amazing,” Miner said. “Because if they start young, then it will be much smoother transition once they get older.”
Miner and Army 2nd Lt. Ross Kok, of the University of Kentucky Army ROTC, told Bishop and several other boys gathered around them in student center at Kentucky State University that they should study, get good grades and stay out of trouble.
“The more you put into high school, the more you’re going to get out of it when you go to college,” Kok said. “College is much harder than high school.”
The advising session was one of hundreds that took place at KSU last week as more than 2,000 8th- and 10th-graders from five Kentucky school districts visited the college. It was part of Kentucky’s month-long push to get students thinking about life after high school.
Operation Preparation is now in its fifth year, with more than 160 districts across the state, the Kentucky School for the Blind and the Kentucky School for the Deaf participating, said April Pieper, academic program manager in KDE’s Division of Learning Services.
“We want students to start preparing early for the future,” Pieper said. “Operation Preparation provides districts a wonderful opportunity to help students in pivotal transition years focus on their future plans and set goals to accomplish their dreams.”
During the initiative – sponsored by KDE and the Department of Workforce Development – 8th- and 10th-grade students meet with advisers, review their Individual Learning Plans (ILP) and make sure they are on target to become college- and career-ready by graduation.
In addition to Henry County, students from Owen County, Anderson County, Franklin County and Frankfort Independent attended this year’s KSU event. But it was just one part of Henry County Middle’s push to get 8th-graders planning for college and beyond, said Kimberly Lineman, the school’s guidance counselor.
“We do quite a bit with career development. I really push that a lot,” said Lineman. “We really try to make it comprehensive.”
In the fall, Henry County students visited one of five Kentucky colleges of their choice, including Bellarmine University, Northern Kentucky University and others, she said. At a Reality Store, students learned what it’s like to live and work in the real world, with bills, paychecks and taxes. Students also toured Henry County High School and picked out their classes. Students also got to choose a professional to shadow for the day based on their Individual Learning Plans (ILP).
“Everything has to match the ILP. If it doesn’t match, they don’t get to go,” Lineman said.
Students also reviewed their ILPs before going to the KSU event, she said. They had a sheet of questions related to their ILP that they had to answer after talking to one of the advisers, a mix of professionals and KSU professors.
Several students crowded around information technology adviser Tyra Dunn-Thomas’ table.
“There are so many jobs that you can get with computer science,” said Dunn-Thomas, a KSU senior research associate who studies bioinformatics and computational biology. “Computers are everywhere today.”
Dunn-Thomas said she was surprised that so many students, many of them girls, told her they already know they want to work with computers.
“I think a lot of the kids, they don’t realize that information technology is actually a STEM field,” she said. “The just think it’s just computers, but I tell them it’s a STEM field and you’ll have a job.”
At Blair Hess’s advising table, an 8th-grade student explained that she wants to be an animal trainer. Hess, communications manager for the KSU College of Agriculture, Food Science & Sustainable Systems, told her to work at her local animal shelter.
“The more you’re around animals, the more familiar you’re going to get,” she said. “And it looks really, really good on a resume. If you are applying to a college and on your application you can say that you have six years’ experience working in an animal shelter, that’s huge.”
Hess, who has helped out at the event for two years, said she used to think middle school might be too young for career planning.
“But a lot of these kids sit down and they know what they want to do,” she said. “Mostly what we are trying to communicate is get an education, start building a resume now, get jobs in your field. If you want be an animal trainer, work at an animal shelter, don’t just get a job at Dairy Queen.”
Kimberly Lineman Kim.Lineman@henrycounty.kyschools.us
April Pieper April.Pieper@education.ky.gov