These pathways are launching high schools past a college-only mindset

"We have redefined how we celebrate and define success when our students graduate from high school," principal writes.
Jamie LaMonds
Jamie LaMonds
Jamie LaMonds is the principal at Farmington High School in Farmington, Missouri.

When our school used to offer a college tour, students and their parents signed up in droves. In contrast, when we offered an industry tour, the response was lukewarm at best.

The difference in interest reveals an entrenched belief that going to college right out of high school is somehow more significant than starting a job or a technical training program. My school set out to change that by offering a health career training program.

Our career training program is breaking down the college-only mindset. We think beyond the classroom and attend to our internal and external communities. The result is that we have redefined how we celebrate and define success when our students graduate from high school.

Connecting to our community

First a little background. In 2007, our small 1,300-student Missouri high school started allowing our learners to earn an associate degree and a high school diploma simultaneously. This dual-enrollment program lets us support students and give them a head start on career options beyond graduation.

It appealed to students who didn’t see a four-year degree as part of their futures. Only one in six people in St. Francois County have a college degree. Being hyper-focused on college pathways, meant we were ignoring the many other avenues our students could take into well-paying careers. We knew we needed to create more direct paths to careers for our students.

Creating career pathways

While our industry tours lagged in interest, we knew they were the right idea. They allowed students to see career options in our community. Still, we needed more ways to support direct paths into careers.

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We started recognizing students who secured jobs right out of high school. To make this more public, we also changed our messaging to parents and started hosting evening events for parents and their students to explore the many career paths and training programs they could begin while still in high school.

Along with those programs, we started offering training for an industry-recognized certification in healthcare as part of the health science program in our career and technical education offering. Our certified CTE health sciences teacher oversees the program and collaborates with partners, like local employer Parkland Health and online healthcare training provider MedCerts, to ensure the program prepares students for real careers.

One early challenge was that professional online certificates are designed for individuals who can complete their training in a few months. However, we needed the course to last for an entire school year. We changed the program’s pace so students spend one hour each day on classwork. Supported by online modules, our health sciences teacher provides lectures, hands-on activities and career exploration to round out the training.

Students learn career-specific and transferable skills in the classroom and clinical settings. For example, the two certificate programs we offer—clinical medical assistant and phlebotomy—teach learners the importance of terminology, customer service and communication in a practical and applied way. Our first cohort will take the certification exam at the end of 2024, and, upon passing, we anticipate they will be able to find jobs right away in our healthcare community.

Community is key in valuing career pathways

Three essential points made this program successful:

  1. Think community—When we looked at our community’s demographics, we realized there was a disconnect between what we had traditionally been offering our students and the paths local people pursued. We needed to offer something that matched their world view and that meant helping our students find career paths that led from high school into skilled jobs.
  2. Leverage community—Local employers need skilled labor. Schools are places of learning. We realized that we could deliver something local employers needed and that would benefit our students.
  3. Broaden community—When local resources don’t provide what is needed, find online resources that can. These days, any training you can think of is available. It might take a little work to morph it into the typical school day and year, but the effort is worth it if you have engaged the first two points.

Educators are sometimes so focused on getting kids to college that we forget many students have other plans that deserve as much attention as college preparation. When we stop and consider the interests of our students and our community’s needs—such as healthcare—we can shift away from that traditional mindset. With innovative thinking, we can go beyond the classroom and celebrate all our students’ paths to success.

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