The Career Institute: A School-Based Collaborative Career Development Program
By Lourdes Rivera and Mary Beth Schaefer
With current political and policy trends, greater efforts at providing career development interventions in the schools that contribute to preparing students for college and career are needed. School Counselors, as the career professionals in the schools, can advocate for the incorporation of career development interventions and work side by side with teachers and other school personnel to ensure that students are being prepared to make informed decisions about college and careers.
The Career Institute (CI) is one example of how school/career counselors can work collaboratively with teachers and other school personnel to infuse a focus on career development throughout students’ academic experiences.
Evolution of the Career Institute
The CI evolved out of efforts to identify ways in which the Inquiry School* an early-college, 6th through 12th grade urban school, could best prepare students to attend college and begin taking college-level courses while still in high school. Working with members of the school-college collaboration team (i.e., the school Principal, teachers, and college faculty), the idea of infusing career development into the school curriculum emerged and plans were made to include a focus on career development and college readiness within the classroom setting beginning with the school’s first 6th grade class and continuing with every subsequent grade. Working collaboratively with teachers and the school Principal, college faculty developed lesson plans to be used in the classroom to address career development themes.
When the program first began, college faculty and school counselors delivered the CI activities with the assistance of the teachers during the Advisory period (i.e., a designated time during the school day when teachers meet with a small group of students). As the school grew, teachers took over the delivery of the lessons plans with the assistance of school counselors. Today, the CI activities are carried out in teacher-led advisory sessions with support from school counselors and college faculty.
Implementation of the CI
During the four to six weeks when the CI activities are delivered, all students at the school meet with their Advisory teachers and work on the activities included in the lesson plans for their grade level. Each grade has a particular focus that is addressed during the CI. As students progress from grade to grade, the activities change in focus and complexity. For example, while sixth grade students work on activities to assist them in identifying their interests and skills and discuss these in relation to possible career and college goals, eighth graders begin to identify specific occupations they are interested in and conduct research to become more knowledgeable about these occupations (e.g., education required, starting salary, etc.). By the ninth grade, students use the information they’ve acquired about themselves and the world of work to begin thinking about college and careers. After ninth grade, a stronger focus is placed on identifying colleges of interest, conducting research on colleges, and the college application process. Through this process, students are prepared, grade-by-grade to think about and become active participants in planning for their academic and career future.
The Role of the School/Career Counselor
School counselors, as the individuals with specialized knowledge about career development, provide a leadership role and are the main resource for teachers in carrying out the classroom activities. They provide ongoing support and assistance to teachers, meeting with them individually and in small groups to prepare and plan for the CI, answer questions, and assist teachers in any way they can. School Counselors also conduct activities and interventions that require more counseling related skills and knowledge of career theory (e.g., teaching students about the Holland typology). Students requiring additional assistance are referred to the school counselors for career counseling.
In addition to working with teachers and students on college and career readiness, the school counselors organize parent workshops and information sessions to ensure that family members are informed about what students are working on, what students need, and how family members can assist students in preparing for college and career.
Success Stories Seven Years Later
Seven years later, the CI continues to grow and evolve to best meet the needs of the students it serves. To date, the CI has served over 450 students and the first class is expected to graduate in 2012. Feedback from teachers indicates that the CI has helped students become more self-aware and focused on their futures. For example, one teacher stated “It gets the students aware of what it takes to decide on a college choice based on the career they are interested in.” Another teacher stated, “Even when students are not engaged, it sends the message that we are a college bound school.” Student responses suggest that they are becoming more self-aware and are thinking about how their behaviors will impact their progress. For example, in response to a question about what might be a barrier to future success, one student stated, “I’m a lazy person and a procrastinator”; another stated “grades that I get.” These responses demonstrate that students are becoming aware of how their behaviors influence the outcomes and provide teachers and school counselors with information about issues students are struggling with.
Attending to the career development needs of students and providing appropriate interventions to facilitate students’ career development has always been an essential role of the professional school counselor. Given the many demands of the school counselor, however, ensuring that every student receives the career development services they merit can be daunting. This type of collaboration enables the school counselor to take on a leadership role, work in a proactive manner with teachers, and share his/her expertise with the school community in a creative and focused manner.
*The Inquiry School is a pseudonym to protect the privacy of participants/participating school.
Lourdes M. Riverais an Associate Professor of Counselor Education at Queens College (CUNY). She received her doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Fordham University at Lincoln Center. Her interests are in the area of career counseling and development, multicultural issues in counseling and counselor education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Beth Schaefer is an Assistant Professor with the School of Education at St. John’s University. She holds a doctorate in literacy from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include social-cultural influences on readers’ responses to literature, college and career readiness, and middle level learners. She can be reached at email@example.com