This Tech Encourages Career Planning When It Matters Most—Before Graduation
When her high school music teacher and mentor passed away, Cody Lee wavered on her dream of becoming a music teacher. Instead, she spent two years at a junior college in general education before declaring a major in accounting—mainly because she had done well in her high school accounting classes. But her heart wasn’t in it. “I took my first accounting class two years into my degree and bombed my first test.” So, she marched herself across campus to the Education department and decided to teach business instead.
Today, Lee is a Post Secondary Programs Coordinator for Valley Center USD 262. She runs the Valley Center High School internship program and helps students gain valuable work experience and career knowledge before they head off to college and careers. While Lee’s own path wasn’t exactly direct, research and experience tell her that many students wait until after high school graduation to even consider their career options—and even then they may not fully understand what each one entails.
With that in mind, Lee implemented Xello, a career and college-readiness platform designed to boost students’ future readiness and make career planning more student-centered. The tool also supports the Kansas State Department of Education’s move to provide Individual Plans of Study for students.
Lee shares how Xello—combined with the district’s internship program, advisory classes and certifications—encourages Valley Center USD students to take a deep dive into their career options long before they leave high school.
EdSurge: Why did you decide to bolster your career and college readiness support for students with this software?
Cody Lee: So many students would come to me in their graduating year and say ‘I don’t know what I want to do after high school. I haven’t thought about it yet.’ It’s sad to me when students don’t know what their future holds; I worry about those kids.
To engage students and help them explore their career options, we implemented our advisory program and started using career software in the 2017/2018 school year. This year, we switched to Xello. It’s more user-friendly, intuitive, interactive and easier to navigate. We’re happy with the transition.
Our job as educators is to inspire and inform our students. The more informed they can be, the more successful they will be. Xello is a great way to get them involved and engaged in career planning. The resources help students get to know themselves while helping us have those tough conversations. For example, if students tell me they want to go into the medical field, they need to understand that science is important, and if they don’t like science or if they’re not good at science, that provides their advisory teacher a great opportunity to have a heart-to-heart conversation about how they need to work on those science skills.
How does the software fit into your curriculum?
We developed a required and graded advisory program where every one of our high school students meets with a mentor teacher for 30 minutes every day. The teacher gets to know the students and gives them career guidance and feedback. During this advisory time, students use the software to research careers, research their majors and even figure out which careers match their personality using Xello’s Matchmaker assessment.
When students get the list from the assessment, they can click on a career that interests them and dig deeper. What are the skills needed for that career? What is the income? What are the college majors related to that career? It’s all there in the software.
There are even integrated videos with real people working in those careers right now. They talk about the day-to-day of the job, the pros and cons and share advice for someone looking into this career.
This software really streamlines the process of searching for a career and, at the same time, it can give students clarity about how their future can look.
What changes are you seeing in students?
We can pull up data through the software and see that half of the top 15 careers our students are looking at are health science related. That immediately tells us we need to provide more opportunities for our students to gain experience and exposure in that area. One way to do that is by offering more certifications.
And because students are using the software and thinking about their future and careers earlier, they are taking advantage of those certifications to prepare for life after graduation. For instance, our 2019 seniors have already earned 100 certifications and our 2020 seniors have already earned 106 certifications. It’s crazy! They’re earning their Certified Nurses Assistant (CNA), OSHA (workplace safety), CPR and first aid certifications.
Even in our internship program, in the past students would say, ‘Oh, I might want to do this, and I’ve thought a little about that.’ Now, the students applying for next year’s internships are more driven and have more clarity about what they want to do after high school.
What about younger students, does this support apply to them, too?
We use the software in grades eight through 12 right now; next year, we’ll use it for grade seven as well. Our eighth graders are doing a cool project called Future Me. Students create their future selves using Xello to research what they want to be when they grow up. They show up at school, dressed the part, acting the part. There’s a big gallery walk event where parents walk by and the students explain to parents and community members the skills needed in those careers, classes they will take and the type of postsecondary training necessary for success in those fields. As part of this project, students will also develop their four-year high school plan in Xello.
Next year, we’ll dig deeper and use features like lessons and course planning tools as well for all of our students. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what we can do with this software.