This paper focuses on findings from the first wave of a longitudinal study investigating high school students' perceptions and behaviors as they engage in a graduation project focused on exploring postsecondary options. Students (n=157) completed surveys regarding their achievement goals, sense of belongingness and career exploration endeavors. A subsample of these students (n=45) also participated in focus group interviews. Results indicate that students' goal emphases reflect attributes associated with mastery and performance goal orientations. In addition, students reported feeling favorably about the school and being engaged in the graduation project in meaningful ways, yet identified a need for additional explanation and support. Implications for secondary teachers and school counselors are discussed.
Many educators in secondary settings understand the need to help students engage in meaningful career exploration and to foster positive beliefs and behaviors in students that will lead to success in future workplace and/or college settings. Not only do educators perceive these needs, they often feel the intense pressure to meet these demands because mandates related to them are implied in the accountability measures stipulated in the No Child Left Behind Act.
For example, in Pennsylvania and many other states, educators are expected to not only have students meet adequate yearly progress on state assessments, but they are also now expected by state requirements to engage students in long-term graduation projects that demonstrate students' capabilities to use critical thinking and problem solving skills as they plan for their future. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (2006), the economic future of the state depends on having citizens who can contribute to a "...rapidly changing workplace and the demand for continuous learning and innovation..." (p.3). In order to help develop this civic responsibility and capacity in today's students, high school personnel must work together and respond to these mandates in meaningful ways as they face the challenges associated with preparing students for life after they graduate from high school.
One way to tackle these challenges is to unite mandates associated with graduation projects and activities related to career development. Interestingly, in a review of the literature related to graduation projects and a scanning of school district websites, few examples exist that represent a unification of career exploration activities with state-mandated graduation projects. The focus of the study described in this paper is to both delineate how high school personnel designed a graduation project to focus on career exploration and to examine students' perceptions about the project as it was initially implemented.
The project under study is unique in that students continually worked with other stakeholders (e.g., counselors, teachers, parents) to build on their strengths as they made decisions about future coursework and experiences. It is important to emphasize that all students completed this intensive process of exploration no matter if they sought employment, admission to universities/technical schools, or enlistment in the military as their goal once they graduated from high school. Using this inclusive approach to career development not only assisted students in making well-informed decisions related to their future, it also ensured that all students, not just collegebound students, received adequate attention and direction as they considered options for the future.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Much research exists within the fields of educational psychology and school counseling that can be used to understand how to develop positive attributes in students and truly get students focused on making meaningful goals for the future, but many times these fields operate in isolation. One of our hopes is to unite findings from motivational research within educational psychology (e. …