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Washougal students pave path to their future

Students begin setting career goals even before they reach high school

WASHOUGAL — Washougal students are taking their futures seriously as they consider their hopes and dreams beyond high school and map a path to achieve their goals.

It’s all part of the state’s plan to assist students in becoming college and career ready. As part of this plan, students begin setting career goals even before they reach high school.

Washougal students work on their High School and Beyond Plans. Photo courtesy of Washougal School District
Washougal students work on their High School and Beyond Plans. Photo courtesy of Washougal School District

As early as the seventh grade, students begin working on their High School and Beyond Plans, where they identify interests, explore career and education possibilities, and create a pathway for their future. Students are able to explore how they learn best, consider their interests and skills, connect to potential careers which includes determining post-secondary education goals, identify their career pathway, and strategically plan four years of high school classes (and beyond) so they can maximize their opportunities while still in high school.

This work allows students to “backwards plan,” meaning that instead of saying “I’m going to WSU” and not knowing what they might want to major in, a student says “I’m going to be a veterinarian and I’m planning on attending WSU because they have an amazing veterinarian degree program.”

When you hear that approximately 80 percent of students in the U.S. change their major at least once according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it makes sense why the state of Washington and the Washougal School District want to help students consider what they want to do and then choose a post-secondary option that would support their goal.

On average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career. This equates to considerable time and expense to the student and family. The Washougal School District would like to assist students in considering options earlier and minimize their potential changes that can be costly.

According to Washougal School District Career and Technical Education Director Margaret Rice, if schools don’t strategically help students with career exploration earlier than high school, many students will miss valuable opportunities because they haven’t planned ahead.

“Our hope is that students making more informed decisions based on personal goals and values will be more engaged in their school experience and therefore achieve more success academically, personally and professionally,” said Rice.

Beginning with the class of 2021, students will earn a high school Washington State College and Career Readiness diploma after completing 24 credits, 17 credits in specific academic areas and the rest as part of their personalized pathway with the addition of a High School & Beyond Plan.

“The state recognizes that a one-size-fits-all diploma isn’t realistic,” said Rice.

Michele Mederos works with Washougal 8th grade student Simone Velansky on her future plans. Photo courtesy of Washougal School District
Michele Mederos works with Washougal 8th grade student Simone Velansky on her future plans. Photo courtesy of Washougal School District

In Washougal, the High School and Beyond Program is a team effort, with the career specialist, counselors, administrators and teachers all working together to help foster student success. WSD staff assists students in learning about opportunities that are available and will help them get a jump start into their career. Programs like CTE Dual Credit, College in the Classroom, Advanced Placement, Running Start, and Cascadia Technical Academy are important opportunities for students.

Students may also participate in internships, volunteer opportunities, conversations with professionals in our community, and career and college fairs to give them exposure and first hand career exploration experiences. Workshops to assist students with the college application process, financial aid, scholarship opportunities, and applying for and interviewing for a job are all a part of their preparation.

The district uses a computer program called Career Cruising/Xello, which provides the vehicle for gathering their High School and Beyond information, including career research, post-secondary education needed to work in that field, the salary range for jobs in that field, creating goals and their four-year plan and more.

“This is about exploring and it’s ok if it changes,” said WSD Career Specialist Lisa Leonard. “It’s about helping students to be really mindful about their planning. At the end of the year they evaluate and plan for the next year.”

The district hopes the intentional planning will give students direction and help them see the value in what they are learning as it relates to their career goals and as a result, reduce the number of students who drop out before graduation.

“It’s important for students to learn about what they like or don’t like and change their minds while they’re still in high school,” said Rice, “so they’ll be less likely to become part of the ‘changing major’s’ statistic.”

This exploration also broadens students’ understanding of post-secondary options including less traditional ways to achieve their goals, such as apprenticeships, trade schools and professional certifications needed to get employed in their career field.

Washougal’s CTE Department has been preparing for this shift for the last couple of years. Changes have been made to traditional CTE classes so they connect to career pathways and provide students with college credit and certification opportunities. These changes help save students’ time and money giving them a more direct path to meet their post-high school education and career goals. By meeting those goals more directly, they will be able to get out into the workforce faster with less debt and start making their mark on society.

“CTE emphasizes technical skills as well as transferable 21st Century skills (or employability skills) that students can put to use now and in the future in a variety of subject areas,” said Rice. “The reality is that all students are career bound, regardless of the path they choose.”

“Through this process we help students see that there are multiple paths to reach their career goals,” said Rice. “The hope is that the more information they have about what it takes to reach their career goal, the better choice they will make. Each student’s path will vary. We want our students to take ownership of their plan/goal and create their own pathway to success.”

Information provided by Washougal School District.

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