Since 2015, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) and VirtualJobShadow.com have partnered to ensure that the district’s CTE department provides programs and courses that keep students engaged and show multiple pathways to a future career.
“It is our mission to do college and career readiness through the lens of making sure we’re providing rigorous learning opportunities with a focus on relevancy and relationships,” says Dr. Kyle Jones, Director of Academies and Career and Technical Education for Gwinnett County Public Schools, in an interview with VirtualJobShadow.com.
For many districts, that would be a straightforward mission. But Gwinnett County is a suburban county of Atlanta, GA, which creates a significant challenge that GCPS must face in order to maintain an efficient and effective CTE department.
“Gwinnett, as of this past year, was officially named the twelfth largest district in the country,” says Jones. “We serve approximately 180,000 students.”
From students and parents to district faculty and staff, from community members to local businesses, stakeholders are actively interested in maintaining high standards for GCPS. Yet even with stakeholder involvement and interest, it is still hard for GCPS to overcome one specific hurdle: the stigma associated with career and technical education.
Formerly known as vocational and technical education, or VoTech, CTE programs have come a long way from the basic classes of decades ago. Yet despite the strides made, many stakeholders continue to see CTE as only made up of automotive or woodshop classes. For Jones, this has been one of the primary challenges of the GCPS CTE department.
“That’s part of what we battle: the stigma,” says Jones. “We need to show our community members and stakeholders what [CTE] really is and how it has changed.”
Jones and the GCPS CTE department must also address the fact that teenagers are being asked to make a difficult decision regarding what they want to do with their future. For most teens, this is not a decision they are equipped to answer.
“I don’t know of any teenagers that know exactly what they want to do with their lives,” says Jones.
From the size of the district, to stakeholder misconceptions, to teenager uncertainty about their futures, the GCPS CTE department faces more than a few hurdles when it comes to college and career readiness for their students.
“We’re just now getting to where we have some data that affirms what we’ve known all along,” says Jones. “When students are involved in a CTE pathway, they are engaged and graduate at a higher level. They perform better on their state assessments. They’re just invested.”
Jones appreciates how VirtualJobShadow.com has helped to maintain students’ engagement and investment in their career and technical education with tools such as FlexLessons, Life Skills Videos, Career Interest Surveys, and Career Journals.
The availability of the Postsecondary Plan and Goal Setting features also help keep students on track while they explore the many different careers their teachers showcase during lessons.
“We’ve had several teachers use those [tools] to help students navigate career exploration,” says Jones. “They’re connecting the dots between a career and postsecondary education, starting a journal, developing an entry-level resume, and more. Especially during a pandemic, it was nice to have those tools.”
With extensive reporting tools, teachers, administrators, and district staff can see in real-time how students are using VirtualJobShadow.com to connect, or not connect, to different careers.
“It’s just as valuable in our eyes that they figure out ‘Oh, I definitely don’t want to do that’ as much as they figure out ‘Oh, that’s my passion’,” says Jones.
Early on, GCPS didn’t have clear CTE pathways for students. They offered a lot of random courses, leaving it up to schools to decide what they wanted to present to students, mostly in the form of electives.
Then the GCPS CTE office began having focused conversations with school leaders regarding career and technical education goals and how to implement them district-wide.
That is when all stakeholders saw the value of VirtualJobShadow.com and began new conversations about how they could best use the many tools offered.
“Especially when you talk about it from the lens of an individual teacher,” says Jones, “[VirtualJobShadow.com] really helped an individual teacher feel like they had a tool that helped students explore career interests and start covnversations around careers. It gave [teachers] some points of reference that they didn’t have prior, which I think is incredibly valuable.”
In addition to the classroom level, VirtualJobShadow.com has helped with GCPS’ advisory programs overall. There are dedicated times where students meet with an advisor, and those advisors have latched onto VirtualJobShadow.com as a significant resource when it comes to career exploration and advisement. Once developed, advisory lessons are then shared across the district.
“From a counseling standpoint, it has also been very useful,” says Jones. “A lot of counselors have enjoyed the tools across the district. That's an important piece too.”
VirtualJobShadow.com isn’t only utilized by the GCPS CTE or advisory programs. Gwinnett County Public Schools offers the platform to all middle and high school students through their classroom teachers.
Many teachers have incorporated the Life Skills videos into FlexLessons in order to teach employability skills within specific careers. The Fine Arts programs at the different schools have used VirtualJobShadow.com to explore how students can apply the arts to any career. At the same time, the dual-language immersion programs use the Job Shadowing videos to explore careers in multiple languages, due to Spanish translations of closed captioning and video transcripts being available.
But for Jones, what is truly important is the staff feedback.
“We have a lot of anecdotes from teachers,” says Jones. “They talk about how much they value the platform and how they see the students react to it, which is positively.”
With VirtualJobShadow.com’s continual expansion and innovation, there are even more tools on the way.
“Some of the things we’re excited to see happen,” says Jones, “are the aptitude test and the course planner that the [VirtualJobShadow.com] team has been working on.”
The six-year partnership with Gwinnett County Public Schools has been truly rewarding for all involved, and VirtualJobShadow.com looks forward to continuing to assist the GCPS CTE students find their pathways to college and career readiness.