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Middle School Career Education – The Bridge Between Elementary School and High School

Middle School is a bridge between Elementary School and High School.  Middle School is a time of transition.

Need for Middle School Career Education

National Alliance of Business (1999) believed that Middle school was an ideal age at which to expose students to the challenging world of work.  Kerka (2000) described middle school as the threshold between elementary and high school, between childhood and adulthood.  Middle school career education laid the groundwork for future career development by helping students achieve the following goals:

*    Knowledge of personal characteristics, interests, aptitudes, and skills

*    Awareness of and respect for the diversity of the world of work;

*    Understanding of the relationship between school performance and future choices

*    Development of a positive attitude toward work (Developmental Career Programs 1998)

Yet, without Middle School Career Education, students failed to build a foundation of the connection between high school academic subjects, potential careers, world of work, and post-secondary training (Kerka 1994, Wells and Gaus’ 1991, Finch and Mooney 1997, Johnson 2000).  As a result, students had poor self concepts, possessed poor intrinsic motivation, lacked self awareness, and made limited career choices.  Finally, some of the students who failed to participate in a career education program dropped out of school (Castellano et al., 2002).

Benefits of Middle School Career Education

Middle School Students who completed career education programs had the following positive outcomes –

*    Increased understanding of the world of work leading to an openness to an increased number potential careers (McDonald and Jessell 1992, Hughes, 1993, Smith 2000, Finch & Mooney, 1999)

*    Improved skills to make informed decisions and complex career information problem solving (McDonald and Jessell 1992)

*    Enhanced academic, personal, and teamwork skill development(Toepfer,  Smith 2000, Finch & Mooney, 1999, Kerka 2000)

*    Increased  career awareness, self-esteem, clearly defined goals, a sense of direction, and motivation to persist and attain a postsecondary education and training  (Bell, T.H. 1983, McDonald and Jessell 1992, Toepfer, p. 63, O’Brien et al. 1999, Marcos, K. 2003)

National Career Development Guidelines – Career Education Model

Teachers and counselors structured middle school career education resources, career self assessment tests and tools upon the National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG). Career knowledge, skills, and decision-making processes  built the NCDG Guidelines.

The framework had three domains, goals, and indicators of mastery under each career development goal.

The three domains were:

*    Personal Social Development (PS)

*    Educational Achievement and Lifelong Learning (ED)

*    Career Management (CM)

The learning competency stages were:

*    Knowledge Acquisition (K). Youth and adults at the knowledge acquisition stage expanded knowledge awareness and built comprehension. They recalled, recognized, described, identified, clarified, discussed, explained, summarized, queried, investigated and compiled new information about the knowledge.

*    Application (A). Youth and adults at the application stage applied acquired knowledge to situations and to self. They sought out ways to use the knowledge. For example, they demonstrated, employed, performed, illustrated and solved problems related to the knowledge.

*    Reflection (R). Youth and adults at the reflection stage analyzed, synthesized, judged, assessed and evaluated knowledge in accord with their own goals, values and beliefs. They decided whether or not to integrate the acquired knowledge into their ongoing response to situations and adjusted their behavior accordingly.

An example of the Personal Social Development domain was:

*    PS1.K2 identified your abilities, strengths, skills, and talents.

*    PS1.A2 Demonstrated use of your abilities, strengths, skills, and talents.

*    PS1.R2 Assessed the impact of your abilities, strengths, skills, and talents on your career development.

Key elements of Middle School Education Program

Based upon the National Career Development Guidelines, the key elements of a middle school career education program increased students’ awareness of their own interests and helped them learn about a wide variety of occupations.  The key elements of Middle School Education Program included –

*    Career exploration resources – Tests, web sites, books, and software

*    Interest inventories

*    Career portfolios

*    Field trips

*    Curriculum

*    Career days

*    Community partnerships

Career Tests

Middle school career tests provided information on the relationship between job interests, key characteristics, college majors, hobbies, abilities, and related careers.  According to Bell, T.H. (1983), middle school students used career tests to identify the three high career activity interests, and the three low areas of interest. Then, Lane (2000) discussed that the avoidance of low interest areas was far more important since low interest areas minimized personal motivation.

Career Portfolio

As a second key element, career portfolios recorded the journey from school to post secondary training and/ or the world of work.  Lane (2000) reported that a portfolio was a written account that compiled –

*    Vision, goals, and dreams

*    Important resource people

*    Valuable learning opportunities

*    Major career exploration objectives

*    Learning activities, skill practice, fieldwork, interviews, and work experience

*    Personal, academic, and social strengths

*    Areas that need improvement?

*    Evaluation of skill and personal development performance in the major areas of career development

*    Junior high school courses liked most and the success in such courses.

*    Junior high school courses liked least and the success in those courses.

*    Sports and athletics and success in such areas

*    Music, dancing, and acting and success in such areas

*    Literature, writing, and speaking and the success in such areas

*    Three high career interest activities

*    Three low career interest activities

*    Three high general aptitude areas

*    Three low general aptitude areas

*    Three high job-career plans with reasons for selection

Community Partnerships

In addition to career tests and portfolios, community resources served key elements.  Examples of community resources and partnerships were –

*    Field trips to community businesses and agencies

*    Community resource speakers

*    career awareness fair

*    Special collaborative programs (Smith 2000)

Community resources and partnerships provided opportunities for students to explore the world of work.  Community events expanded the students’ understanding of job duties, work place skills, and the relevancy of school subjects.

Middle school career education program provided students with awesome opportunities to gain self awareness as well as to explore and understand the world of work.  Career exploration resources, career portfolios, community partnerships and career days provided invaluable experiences.

References

Bell, T.H. (1983). A Nation At Risk.

Castellano, M., Stringfield, S. And Stone, J.R., Iii. (2002, March). Helping Disadvanted Youth Succeed In School: Second Year Findings From A Longitudinal Study Of CTE-Based Whole-School Reforms. Columbus, Oh: National Dissemination Center for Career and Technical Education.

Developmental Career Programs For Schools. (1998, August 27). Acaenews 1, No. 17.

Finch, C., & Mooney, M. (1999). School-To-Work Opportunities In The Middle School: Concepts And Issues (Report No. Mds-1096). Macomb, Il: NCRVE Materials Distribution Service. (Eric Document Reproduction Service No. Ed 413 509)

Finch, C. R., And Mooney, M. (1997). School-To-Work Opportunities In The Middle School: Concepts And Issues.  Berkeley, CA: National Center For Research In Vocational Education, University Of California. (Ed 413 509)

Hughes, M. (1993, December). Promoting Middle Schoolers’ Understanding of the World of Work. Paper Presented at the Meeting of the American Vocational Association Convention. Nashville, TN.

Johnson, L. S. (Summer 2000). The Relevance of School to Career: A Study in Student Awareness.  Journal of Career Development,  26, No. 4: 263-276.

Kerka, S. (1994). Vocational Education in the Middle School. Eric Digest No. 155.  Columbus, OH: Clearinghouse on Adult Career and Vocational Education.

Kerka, S. (2000). Middle School Career Education and Development. Practice Application Brief No. 9. Columbus, OH: Eric Clearinghouse On Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Lane, J.  (2000, Summer).  Scientific Approach For Developing and Testing A Students’ Job-Career Plan Before 11th Grade. Education.

Marcos K.  (2003, June 1). Gearing-Up For Career Awareness: Profile Of A Middle School Career Program. Eric/Cass Digest Eric Educational Reports.

Mcdonald, J. L., and Jessell, J. C. (1992, Summer). Influence of Selected Variables on Occupational Attitudes and Perceived Occupational Abilities of Young Adolescents. Journal of Career Development 18, No. 4: 239-250.

National Alliance of Business. (1999). Learning to Succeed. Preparing Young People for Tomorrow’s Workplace. Washington, DC: Author.

National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee (NOICC) (1987).  National Career Development Guidelines. National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, 2100 M Street NW, Suite 156, Washington, Dc 20037

O’brien, K.M., Dukstein, R.D., Jackson, S.L., Tomlinson, M.J., And Kamatuka, N.A. (1999, March). Broadening Career Horizons For Students In At-Risk Environments. The Career Development Quarterly, 47. Alexandria, Va: National Career Development Association.

O’brien, K. M. Et Al. (1999, March). Broadening Career Horizons for Students in At-Risk Environments.” Career Development Quarterly 47, No. 3: 215-229.

Smith Agnes E.  (2000, Summer). Middle School Career Exploration: The Role of Teachers and Principals Education.

Toepfer, C. F. (1994, January). Vocational/Career/Occupational Education at the Middle Level. Middle School Journal 25, No. 3: 59-65.

Toepfer, C.F., Jr. (1994, January). Vocational/Career/Occupational Education at the Middle Level: What Is Appropriate For Young Adolescents? Middle School Journal, 25 (3). Columbus, Oh: National Middle School Association.

Toepfer, C.F., Jr. (1997). Winning Ways: Best Practices In Work-Based Learning. Ann Arbor, MI: Tech Directions Books/Prakken Publications.

Wells, R. L., and Gaus, D. (1991).  Study Of Kentucky Middle School Students’ Knowledge of Career Options. Louisville: University Of Kentucky.

Read more about middle school career education tools.

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