School & District Management Opinion

Preparing for New Jobs: Two Next-Gen Career Centers

By Tom Vander Ark — January 21, 2015 3 min read
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The core business of schools, according to the Spring ISD strategic plan is, “To provide
every staff member and student opportunities to be engaged in interesting work each day, which allows them to be contributing citizens of a democratic
society (emphasis added).” That mission comes to life every day at Carl Wunsche High School in Spring, TX.

Before we talk about career centers, let’s celebrate a district that takes learner experience seriously--I love the focus on interesting work for staff and
students. It reminds me of Danville’s commitment to powerful learning experiences.

Wunsche currently serves as a career center drawing 10-12 grade students from three zone schools north of Houston. Next year Wunsche will add 9th grade and
serve as a career-focused school of choice. The shift is part of superintendent Watson’s plan to create unique programs at each school. Watson was most
recently the Houston ISD chief human resource officer.

Next year, 15 career pathways (down about half a dozen from this year) will be organized in three academies of about 500 students--each with a head of
school and its own lottery-based admissions. The academies focus on technology, health, and professions.

With the passage of HB5, Texas eighth graders take a career class and create a high school plan.

Seniors at Wunsche participate in community-based unpaid internships--about 30 hours per week for six weeks. Students also have the chance for work based
learning on campus. Culinary students run a cafe, technology students run the computer lab, education students assist at an on-site preschool, law students
hold class in a real courtroom and vet students accept patients during the week.

An open floor plan and glass walls promote an unusual degree of transparency. Teachers promote active and applied learning and focus on skill acquisition.
Watch students showcase their career pathways at Career Destination Night.

Another regional career center worth visiting is the Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) south
of Kansas City. Eight hundred juniors and seniors from five zone high schools spend a half a day at CAPS or an affiliated internship.

Blue Valley superintendent Tom Trigg said, “We want kids to own their own learning,” noting that, “average students blossom with relevance.”

CAPS courses provides hands-on, real world experience in six career fields:Accelerator (entrepreneurship),Bioscience,Business,Engineering,Human Services, and Medicine & Healthcare.

Projects, mentors, and internships promote engagement, relevance, and career preparation. Like Wunsche, the facility design promotes transparency and collaboration. Dual enrollment courses allow students to leave with a year of college credit.

The CAPS dress code is business casual. Students benefit from explicit internship preparation in business greetings and conversations.

CAPS Executive Director Corey Mohn, is an econ major and former entrepreneur. He says the business community has been very supportive of CAPS. They ask for
advice and help on curriculum but seldom ask for donations.

Like these district students, every middle school student should have career awareness opportunities and every high school student should have the
opportunity to experience success in several work settings and earn college credit before graduating.

For other career center blogs see:

The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.