- Jessamine Career and Technology Center offers 16 career pathways, and the school wants students to know about them before they reach high school.
- Students from a career pathways class at East Jessamine Middle School attended a mock trial argued by high school students as part of an examination of the pre-law pathway.
By Mike Marsee
Was it murder or justifiable homicide? A group of 20 or so middle school students held the defendant’s future in their hands.
The students from East Jessamine Middle School (Jessamine County) came to the local courthouse to watch students from the pre-law pathway at Jessamine Career and Technology Center in a mock trial practice and to serve as a jury for the case the high school students argued.
The middle school students also got a good look at the career and technical education (CTE) center’s pre-law pathway and what it has to offer both in school and beyond. It is part of a larger push by the Jessamine County schools to expose students to the opportunities available to them within its career pathways before they enter high school.
Will Hall, the criminal law teacher at Jessamine Career and Technology Center (JCTC), said the school and the district wanted to do more for younger students than open the doors and let them have a look around by giving them hands-on experiences in career pathways.
“They didn’t really have a way besides the 8th-grade tours,” Hall said. “It’s kind of the next step JCTC was missing. We’re getting them prepared for college, but how do they know what pathway to take?”
That’s important to administrators in Jessamine County, where JCTC Principal Dexter Knight said outreach to students in grades P-8 is a key element of his school’s strategic plan.
“Our district’s goal is to help students find their passion,” Knight said. “If they’re talking about agriculture, they need to be passionate about agriculture.”
Hall’s pre-law students displayed their passion as they argued both sides of the case before them in what was effectively an intrasquad scrimmage that would help them prepare for competitions against teams from other schools later in their season.
There are 18 students from East Jessamine and West Jessamine high schools ranging from sophomores to seniors on the school’s team, 12 of whom will argue the case in competitions that culminate with regional and state tournaments later this winter.
“We get a problem released in October, and the students get witness statements, evidence and some case law,” Hall said. “The students have complete and full discretion as to how to prosecute or defend that case. We take it as a law firm would; we assign some students to each team.”
The pre-law students are part of a growing pathway that includes about 100 students per semester, and theirs is one of 16 career pathways offered by JCTC, one of 42 locally operated career and technical centers across Kentucky. The pathways, which are aligned to 16 Kentucky career clusters, provide a way for students to organize instruction and student experiences within broad categories that encompass virtually all occupations.
Knight said the school has grown from about 700 duplicated students – students are counted in each class in which they are enrolled – to about 3,000 this year.
The East Jessamine Middle School students who attended the intrasquad trial are part of a career pathways class available to students in grades 6-8 that exposes them to the options available to them at the career and technical center.
“The main goal of my class is to give them an understanding of what is offered over at JCTC, and then to help them learn what those pathways are about,” said Lucas Sledge, who teaches the class that was offered for the first time in the fall semester. “We want to help them figure out what their values and interests are, to help them make a more informed decision when they get to high school on what pathway they want to take.
“It’s important that we give these students as much information as possible to pick whatever pathway they might be interested in. A lot of adults kind of fall into the careers that they have, and if we give these students more information, they might have a better shot at being something that they want to be.”
Sledge said 68 students took the class in the fall semester, during which he tried to cover all of the pathways offered at the career and technical center.
“I have access to all the teachers over there and the heads of all the programs. They help me understand the course catalog and the timelines,” he said. “Any time that I need access or have a question, I can just shoot them an email or give them a call. They want to give as much information to the students and parents as possible.”
During their look at the public services pathway, students heard from a police officer and social service workers. As part of their study of the pre-engineering pathway, they dived into the scientific method, using experiments to examine the process of how an airplane would be engineered and refined.
At the mock trial, they saw the high school students argue the case as a local attorney portrayed the presiding judge, and they adjourned to a fast food restaurant to debate their verdict over cheeseburgers and chicken nuggets.
“I think it’s definitely a great eye-opener for these young kids and it’s something that’s going to build interest in this program,” said Ellie Cox, a junior who played the defendant. “Experiencing this at a younger age would probably have made me jump faster into this pathway.”
Cox said she would like to have taken the career pathways class when she was in middle school.
“I think it’s really important,” she said. “It definitely helps them establish what they want and where their interests are and gives them a peek into those pathways.”
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) works to assist schools in exposing students to possible careers. A career choices course similar to the career pathways course can be adapted for students in grades 7-9, and the career planning component can be correlated with a student’s individual learning plan.
KDE also offers a resource that elementary school teachers and others can use to introduce career choices and give them the opportunity to begin to form their own ideas about career roles. The e-coloring book is intended for students in grades pre-K-3.
Hall said he and his students were happy to host the students from East Jessamine Middle School. The county’s other middle school, West Jessamine Middle School, doesn’t yet have a career pathways class, but a group of social studies students from the school who expressed interest in the pre-law pathway visited a mock trial a few weeks later, and Hall prepared a video and a handout for them that explains the trial process. He said it’s important for JCTC to do all it can to prepare its future students.
“I think it’s crucial because when you are making your judgments maybe based on television or what you read, you really don’t know what you’re getting into when you make that pathway decision,” he said.
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