Making education relevant for all students is a key factor in how educators today advise and prepare young people for an increasingly complex world. The task of rethinking our traditional processes is monumental, but it also can yield tremendous results.
An exciting initiative is under way at Putnam City Schools in Oklahoma City. The project has the potential to provide true educational relevance for all students. This school-to-work project involves systemic changes in all aspects of operation. Following are some of the key components of the Putnam City model.
Individualized career plan
Putnam City Schools are very concerned about the lack of direction and focus with which students may choose their classes. Many graduate without coursework that would greatly enhance their postsecondary and employment options. Therefore, career planning is the foundation of the restructuring effort. Students complete an academic assessment and interest inventory in eighth and tenth grades as a basis for career advisement and pre-enrollment. Plans of study then are developed based on student interest, not necessarily aptitude.
Putnam City eighth graders receive the ACT Explore assessment and tenth graders are given the ACT Plan. Each of these assessments helps students determine a cluster of interest and gives a predicted ACT score.
Each student's family is given the opportunity to participate in a 30-minute individual counseling session in which careers aligning with the student's interests are discussed. Participants also discuss the educational options and expectations of various careers along with current labor market information.
Thousands of students and parents meet with professionals from the high school, the local vocational school, college and Oklahoma Department of Vocational Technical Education. These sessions are most effective when students are grouped into clusters. One day is designated for each cluster, with professionals from those fields scheduled to visit with students interested in the same career.
Most professionals are excited about the opportunity to share their area of expertise with students. Jerry Rickerts, principal of Putnam City West High School, says, "We feel that this process is one of the most important services we can offer students to help them make good decisions for their future and to engage them in their education. It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet parents in a very positive atmosphere."
Another advantage to bringing in professionals from many organizations is that someone is always available to answer questions regarding various educational options and employment.
Putnam City Schools are a part of CREATE, a school-to-work consortium that includes six school districts, Francis Tuttle Area Vo-Tech Center, Oklahoma City Community College, Rose State College, Oklahoma State University in Oklahoma City, University of Central Oklahoma and University of Oklahoma. Every participating institution assists with career planning for students. Staff members serve on committees that address curriculum, marketing, staff development and other components of the system.
A commitment from the leaders of each institution is mandatory. Many school-to-work initiatives have faltered due to a lack of real leadership. Expectations for change must be defined and clearly communicated. To accomplish a restructuring effort, this commitment requires an investment of time, resources and personnel.
Decisions should be made at the grassroots level. Putnam City high schools are using a community-based planning committee including parents, business and industry representatives, counselors, teachers and administrators. This committee developed Putnam City's schoolto-work goals and strategies based on market research conducted at the local and state level. …