Preparing Students for a Career
How Schools Help Lead the Path to a Bright Future
By Anna Bentley
For many high school students, deciding on a possible career can bea daunting decision. The options seem almost endless, and it can be hard to successfully translate interests into viable career options. Luckily, Georgia’s public and independent schools are dedicated to helping students wade the sometimes-murky waters of career preparation. By implementing special programs, offering enriching co-curricular activities and developing personal connections with students, Georgia’s schools are committed to getting students on the path to a bright future.
Providing Individualized Guidance
One of the biggest advantages of independent schools is their smaller size, which allows counselors and advisors to make personal connections with students, helping to inform conversations about possible careers, college majors and college selections.
“This is addressed in several different ways,” says Krista Parker, the Atlanta Girls’ School’s middle and upper school director. Beginning with their junior year, students at the school go through a three-step process that starts with meetings with the college counselor to determine what their interests are and the colleges that could match them.
“Secondly, we require all of our students to complete two 70-hour internships while enrolled at AGS. These internships help students to see what the ‘real world’ looks like and helps them to not only see what careers they may want to pursue but also which ones they don’t! Third and probably most importantly is our commitment to establishing partnerships with organizations outside of the classroom. We connect our students with professionals in the science and technology field as well as the business and finance community.”
Small school sizes also help advance the counseling process. At Pace Academy, for instance, preparations can begin as early as ninth and 10th grade, with informational meetings for parents and students. And at the Atlanta Girls’ School, the college counseling process begins in 10th grade with small group meetings with college representatives.
Students are encouraged to explore academic interests both inside and outside the classroom, by either doubling up on core classes like math, science or English or exploring interests through electives or cocurricular/extracurricular activities.
At the Atlanta Girls’ School, weekly assemblies can host guest speakers ranging from lawyers to dog sled racers so students can learn more about careers they may or may not have considered.
Similarly, “Pace Academy’s mission is to ‘create prepared, confident citizens of the world,’ which means that we offer academic, co-curricular and extracurricular programs that expose students to many areas of study and related professional opportunities,” says Caitlin Jones, Pace’s director of communications. “… For example, upper school students interested in social innovation, global health or arts and urban life may choose to become involved in our Isdell Center for Global Leadership Fellows program, a two-year, co-curricular, team-based leadership program.”
At Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School, students get hands-on experience as they ponder future careers. Each student goes through a corporate work study program in which they work at local companies five days per month “to fund the majority of their education, gain job experience, grow in self-confidence and realize the relevance of their education,” according to its website.
Offering Programs for Success
Students are encouraged to explore academic interests both inside and outside the classroom, by either doubling up on core classes like math, science or English or exploring interests through electives or co-curricular/extracurricular activities.
Providing individualized options for students is a priority in Georgia’s public schools, as well. The Georgia Department of Education (GDOE)’s Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program offers students specialized instruction in more than 120 subjects, letting them explore careers before graduation—and even earn technical certifications, in some cases. The DOE’s website (gadoe.org) has entire web pages devoted to this program.
In this program, pathways are arranged in broad career clusters (for example, students can follow a graphic design pathway in the arts, A/V technology and communications cluster). Each pathway has its own sequence of three specialized courses, followed by an end-of-pathway assessment. Students can pick from more than 120 pathways in 17 clusters, including finance; IT; transportation, distribution and logistics; education and training; and agriculture, food and natural resources.
Though students pick their pathways in eighth grade, the program starts early, with career awareness lessons beginning in the first grade. Later in middle school, students take a career development inventory to help drill down into careers that might interest them before developing their personal graduation plan with input from their school counselor and parents.
“Middle-school students can learn about a variety of careers through exploratory courses, and CTAE has program of study documents available to assist students with mapping their course of study in high school and postsecondary enrollment,” says Meghan Frick, the GDOE’s director of communications. “These documents also assist with providing more information on careers associated with the Career Pathway the student is pursuing.”
And if students want to get a jump start on their college education (and career), the state also allows them to dual enroll in both high school and college classes if they qualify.
What Parents Can Do
The path might seem clear for students who have solid ideas about their futures. But what about those who don’t know what they want to do?
Gaela Peters, school counselor and learning specialist at the Atlanta Girls’ School, says it has a weekly Education for the Development of Leadership and Service to expose students to different careers. The school also hosts annual special events where metro-area professionals speak about their industries.
Pace has similar programs in which it invites guest speakers and alumni to “discuss a variety of topics, with the goal of introducing students to global issues and a variety of career opportunities,” Jones says. “. . . Several club offerings also connect students to professionals in the Atlanta community.” But, she added, “The path toward an eventual career, however, truly starts with the college counseling process.”
Whether your child has a clear plan for what he or she wants to do, or is still struggling to figure it out, your involvement is crucial. Be involved in their education and maintain an open dialogue about their goals. Together with specialized school programs and guidance, strong parental support can help students set and achieve career goals that perfectly fit their skills and interests.