While middle school students have always had the opportunity to tour Tolles, the demand for career exploration for students in grades 6-8 has never been higher. From quick tours to full elective courses, schools, parents and students themselves are more interested in being given the chance for practical learning experiences to assist them in devising pathways prior to high school.
In 2014, Tolles and Jonathan Alder took the leap and partnered for two junior high satellite programs–engineering/manufacturing and information technology–housed at Jonathan Alder Junior High School (JAJH).
“Not only are we addressing the need of extending career-tech opportunities to junior high students, but we are also honing in on the areas where there is a great need for a skilled workforce by offering classes in engineering/manufacturing and information technology. Our region needs highly-qualified workers in these areas so garnering the attention of younger students for these fields is vital to making that happen,” said Tolles superintendent Kim Wilson. “Overall this is a way to help students explore their interests and abilities much sooner and get a jump start on a career-technical pathway, which can include either going to college or entering the workforce directly out of school.”
The success of the JAJH programs led to the beginning of a middle school logistics program at West Jefferson Middle School, continued progress with middle school exploration programs called Project EDU (teaching professions), Project INC (business/entrepreneurship), which began in 2013, as well a soon-to-start health professions exploration class for middle schoolers at Hilliard’s Innovative Learning Center (ILC), as well as an agriculture bioscience satellite at Fairbanks Middle School.
“Hundreds and hundreds of students in middle school are now having the opportunity to learn about careers they never knew existed until now, and they are able to do it much earlier,” said Connie Strebe, who oversees Tolles’ satellite programs and more than 850 satellite students each year. “What this does is help focus students on something they may be further interested in exploring in high school and perhaps college. Or, it helps them learn what they might not have an interest in pursuing. This is just as important.”
The middle school pathways are currently designed to lead into high school electives hosted at the associate schools. For instance, students can take IT at JAJH and continue on into early career-tech electives offered at Jonathan Alder High School. If they are interested, they can then apply to Tolles’ Computer Networking & Support Technology or Interactive Media programs to finish out their high school careers. This is the same for programs in the fields of Marketing & Logistics, Engineering & Manufacturing, Environmental Management, Early Childhood Education, Academy EDU satellite, Academy INC satellite, or the Health Professions Academy satellite.
“Thinking about careers early is vital. Research shows that 60-70% of students become ‘chronically disengaged’ in seventh and eighth grades,” offered Tolles Career Connections Coordinator Beth Fogelsong. “By being involved in an elective early on that interests them, and by exploring careers early, it truly prepares students for all options after they graduate.”
Fogelsong is heavily involved with Tolles’ associate middle schools, offering resources to help counselors and teachers engage students early on. In April, she’ll begin a busy month of hosting seventh graders for tours of the Tolles campus. On April 4-5, nearly 1,000 Dublin seventh graders will see 22 career-technical labs on the Plain City campus, and on April 13-14, seventh graders from London, Madison-Plains, and West Jefferson will tour. On May 3, Jonathan Alder seventh graders get their turn.
Fogelsong is also working with London Middle School to offer classroom hands-on activities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) areas at the end of April leading up to being part of their Maker Night event on April 21.
This summer, Tolles will host its new Pathways Camp (June 13-17), exclusively for Dublin sixth graders entering seventh grade in 2016-17. This exclusive experiential camp, limited to 25 students, is designed to engage students in exploring a variety of career pathways. Students will be able to participate in research, hands-on activities, and on-site professional experiences to help them identify career interests and help focus their educational journeys. They will visit actual businesses and organizations during the camp week in the following career pathways: animal-related careers, arts and communication careers, automotive careers, business and logistics careers, culinary careers, medical careers, and outdoor careers.
At the end of June, the Tolles VEX Robotics Camp for middle school students interested in engineering and manufacturing, will be hosted by RAMTEC.
“What we have designed are elective programs for middle school students and an extensive career connections program for parents and our associate schools to tap into the vast resources and knowledge we have to offer this area as its career-technical education provider,” said Shane Haggerty, director of marketing and technology.
Early career exploration is more important than ever as Harvard estimates that 60% of jobs by 2018 will require skilled training that may include an industry credential (can be earned at Tolles) or an associate’s degree (students can earn college credit while enrolled at Tolles).