By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi’s high-schoolers will need to start thinking more seriously about what they want to do when they grow up.
A new Pathways to Success program being implemented by the Mississippi Department of Education will ask the state’s eighth-grade students to chose one of 16 career clusters that most interests them.
Starting this school year, the cluster students choose will be used to guide school counselors in discussing their academic and professional futures as they move through high school. It also may influence electives or certain career and technical courses students choose to take.
Students will have the flexibility to switch to a different cluster at any time.
“The biggest difference will be in the conversation in planning year to year in what students are taking,” said Jean Massey, the MDE’s associate state superintendent for career and technical education. “Instead of saying what do you need to do to graduate and go to college, it is what do you want to do in college? We need a conversation more than just I’m going to college.”
Eighth-grade and most ninth-grade students will take a career interest survey this year, and those results will be used to create an individual Career and Academic Plan, or iCAP, for each student this spring.
That iCAP will be based on the student’s career cluster. Choices include human services, business management, public safety, health science and manufacturing, among others.
Massey said she realizes eighth-graders will not likely have a firm idea of their career choice, but noted the process will get them to start thinking about it.
“I’ll guarantee you that 75 percent of them will change their mind in ninth grade,” she said. “That is OK.
“Would you not rather have someone in high school look at different areas and say I don’t want to do that than get to freshman year of college and you are paying expenses and say I don’t want to do that anymore?”
Not all 16 clusters will be available in all schools. That will depend on availability, on the interest of students and on local resources.
Part of the goal behind the program is that local business leaders in the various clusters will work with students to teach them more about the workforce.
That is a collaboration welcomed by Todd Beadles, vice president of workforce development with Lee County’s Community Development Foundation.
“It is always beneficial any time we can create more partnerships between the education system and employers,” Beadles said. “It is also good when employers have input in the process.”
Students will not be tracked, Massey said. They will have the ability to choose any available cluster and also to change their mind.
Students will essentially take the same core classes, but the cluster they choose may prompt a counselor to recommend that they take a certain elective, or maybe an extra science course or a relevant career and technical course.
One of the goals is to minimize the amount of remediation students need when arriving at college.
The program will, however, offer three pathways for students to graduate from high school. One is the traditional pathway in which students must receive the 24 credits currently required by the MDE. A second is the district option that allows students to opt out of a science, social studies and elective credit and graduate with 21 credits with a parents’ permission. That option also has been previously available.
Students also will be able to choose a career pathway option that also allows them to graduate with 21 credits. That option was made available by a law passed the legislature last year, Massey said.
Local school districts can also set their own graduation standards that require more credits than the state does.
Massey said she hopes the new Career Pathways program encourages students to be more aware of their futures. She said Mississippi is following the model of other states that also have used these career clusters in advising students.
“We have always focused on an academic plan and what do I have to get over the next four years to graduate,” she said. “Graduation is important, but what am I going to do with that diploma?
“The iCap is focused on what career do I want and how can I put academics in place to get me there.”