Middle schoolers get a jump on job training

High schoolers in Cherokee County can get a sampling of career fields through several “pathways” that highlight employment possibilities. Those programs are even more valuable, district leaders say, when they’re offered earlier.

So sixth graders, start thinking about job prospects.

“This year, we’re beginning to explore ways we can introduce careers to elementary school children,” said Krista Webb, the curriculum coordinator for career, technical and agricultural education. “If you ask someone in kindergarten what they want to be, they only say things they know about: a mommy, a daddy, a nurse, a worker in a grocery store. The earlier we can introduce them to opportunities, the better.”

Highlighting career options in middle school opens a pipeline of interest that feeds into the high schools’ pathway programs and helps students prepare to dive in when they become ninth graders.

“It’s better to understand in middle school that ‘I love this’ or ‘Oh no, I can’t do this all the time’ before they spend educational time and money pursuing a career that might not be right for them,” said Webb. “Starting early helps them identify what they like and what they don’t.”

Mill Creek Middle in Woodstock is among the first to align its electives with the health care sciences pathway at its district high school, River Ridge. Mill Creek’s 1300 students can opt into nine-week electives around diagnostic and support services, IT and biotechnology, therapeutic services and applied anatomy.

“A student could have four to eight opportunities to take courses during their sixth and seventh years, so by eighth grade, they’ll know if they like health care,” said Mill Creek Principal Matthew May, a former River Ridge teacher. “Then when they register for classes at the high school, they’ll know what they want to do.”

Mill Creek had another reason for picking the health care pathway: A building renovation provided enough elbow room to turn an old consumer science lab into the health care center.

“We got a grant from the state to equip the lab with hospital beds, computers, health care technology, wheelchairs and crutches,” said Webb. “It’s a real health care setting.”

The approximately 50 students in the program have also been visited by area health care workers who offered a glimpse into the reality of their jobs and may help students focus their interests – or change their minds entirely.

“We know some may think they want to do this, but if they change their minds, that’s part of learning and an early win,” said May. “I’d rather a kid learn now than go through a year of medical school to determine it’s not something they’re interested in.”

Information about Mill Creek Middle is online at cherokeek12.net/millcreekms.

SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.