Putting Career Planning Front and Center

Article excerpt

It's not the richest, it's not the largest and--until recently--Center School District wasn't getting much attention. But implementing an exemplary career life planning program at the elementary, middle and high school levels has positioned the district in the education spotlight.

It's easy to overlook Center School District and its 2,700 students who live on Kansas City, Missouri's, South side. To the north is Kansas City School District, nationally known for its 12-year experiment with court-ordered desegregation. Just across the state line in Kansas lie the growing and affluent Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley School Districts.

Despite neighbors like these, Center School District has found its own way to the forefront of educational excellence by committing resources, time, teachers and counselors to the career and life planning process. The district describes its program like this:

"The Center School District ... is committed to providing quality learning experiences for all students, with the expectation that they become responsible and productive citizens in our global and multicultural society ... Career life planning is math, science, home economics, chess clubs and football made relevant."

Career days, job shadowing, software applications and even classroom games are ways the district has made its school activities relevant. As a result, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the National Consortium of State Career Guidance Supervisors praised Center School District in their 1995 Planning For Life Recognition Program. A review panel ranked Center fifth out of 12 districts recognized nationwide for exemplary career life planning programs.

But reaching model program status was no simple task. Pat Ferris, Center's former coordinator of guidance counselors and now a guidance instructor at Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, pioneered the effect at the district's elementary schools nearly 15 years ago. She started simply, visiting classrooms once a week to talk with children about decision making, problem solving and things that might be worrying them, such as relationships and getting along with their parents and friends.

In 1986, Ferris took a year's leave to serve as president of the American School Counselors Association. During her tenure she traveled extensively, learning about innovative programs sprouting up around the country. Upon returning, Ferris--now armed with experience--delved into what would become Center School District's exemplary career life planning program.

Getting a life

One of Ferris's first and most significant contributions was distributing "Get A Life" portfolios to all of the district's fifth graders. Developed by the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, the slick and colorful portfolios contain exercises and worksheets divided into four sections--self-knowledge, life roles, educational development and career exploration and planning. Throughout the school year, students record what they've accomplished and what they plan to work on in the future.

As students approach graduation, their portfolios fatten with the classroom activities they record under one of the four sections. They record the date, explain the activity and then list the competencies they gained by completing that activity. Also in the portfolios are interest inventories, which students complete at the middle- and high school-levels, a compilation of their extracurricular activities, a record of their work experiences, a list of any awards they've received and the plans they've developed for high school and life after graduation.

"When you do things like that, it helps narrow things down and puts them in perspective," says Leonard Davis, now a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Center Middle School.

Center School District was a demonstration site for the portfolios, which follow students through graduation. …