According to Drew Thurman, Senior Manager with the Career & Technical Education Department of Houston Independent School District (HISD), the primary mission of the department is “to prepare students for life beyond high school.”
For the largest school district in the State of Texas, covering 333 square miles and serving 209,000+ students, preparing all students for life beyond high school is a lofty goal.
“We see a role in getting kids at the elementary school level to look at different career options,” says Thurman in an interview with VirtualJobShadow.com. “Then, in middle and high school, to actually prepare them for those careers.”
Yet the challenge for HISD isn’t just getting students to prepare for careers, but to realize the breadth and depth of career options out there.
“That seems to be a primary hurdle,” says Thurman. “If we could solve that problem, we could do a lot better at getting kids pointed in a direction suitable to them.”
Contributing to the issue is the fact that 78.5% of HISD’s students are economically disadvantaged. That disadvantage can further limit students’ exposure to different careers outside their familial and social circles. Add to that the reality that over 100 languages are spoken within the district’s student population, and the challenges are compounded even further.
“When I see stats like that,” says Thurman, “my first question is how do you teach when there are 100 languages spoken?”
Demographics aside, there is another factor that Thurman sees as a major hurdle for the students of HISD.
“We hear over and over the importance of employability skills, sometimes called soft skills,” says Thurman. “Good communicator, good at teamwork, shows up on time, has a strong work ethic. Those kinds of thing we hear as being extremely important to employers.”
HISD knew they needed assistance with career exploration and readiness in order to fulfill their CTE mission. But as the seventh-largest school district in the US, with over three-quarters of the students economically disadvantaged and 100 languages spoken, the goal of that mission had become almost unattainable.
“It’s something that VirtualJobShadow.com helps to address rather well: getting young people to understand the vast array of careers available to them,” says Thurman.
With Career Central, VirtualJobShadow.com places hundreds of career options, supported by thousands of Job Shadowing and Q&A videos, directly in front of students. This gives them that much needed exposure to the many career possibilities out there.
With the Life Skills videos available to all HISD students, HISD’s need for comprehensive soft skills education is also easily met. Although the platform does not have 100 languages to choose from, all videos, including Job Shadowing and Q&A videos, have Spanish language closed-captioning and Spanish language transcript options available.
“When we point out the Spanish transcriptions, we get a lot of ooohs and ahhhs,” says Thurman. “Teachers are extremely happy to see that.”
But the Career Central library of videos isn’t all that VirtualJobShadow.com offers students. HISD has utilized the platform’s many other career planning and readiness tools.
“It’s been extremely beneficial to give students opportunities to take career interest assessments,” says Thurman. “The other bells and whistles are great too, such as the resume builder and the cover letter builder. For teachers, the ability to create FlexLessons using all the resources within VirtualJobShadow.com and pulling other resources from outside of the platform into the platform is pretty powerful.”
“I don’t think the importance of the regular check-ins we have with VirtualJobShadow.com can be overemphasized,” says Thurman. “It’s that attention to our situation, our circumstance, that has really made for a better implementation of the resource.”
As part of the ongoing dedication to seamless implementation and usage, VirtualJobShadow.com scheduled a monthly call with Thurman. While VirtualJobShadow.com offers the ability for clients to generate a multitude of different reports on their own, due to the number of schools and students that HISD oversees, having the Account Manager distill the information into a concise, monthly call has made all the difference.
“While I know I could do it, I rely on that monthly call,” says Thurman. “We look at trends, examine the reports, and what insights are sticking out each month.”
Keeping the CTE Department abreast of current information and timely trends is extremely important, but just as important is the platform’s usage by other stakeholders in the district.
“Most of [VirtualJobShadow.com’s] power is to enhance the effectiveness in the classroom, but it’s embraced by all who touch it,” says Thurman. “Someone that’s classified as a dean, or principal, or assistant principal, they have to come to me [for user setup]. I get to gauge the interest popping up by this campus or that campus. It’s nice to see immediately when it’s catching on.”
Asked if any innovations or build-outs have been added to the platform by HISD staff or faculty, Thurman responds, “VirtualJobShadow.com is the constant innovator, coming up with solutions first that we didn’t know we even needed.”
“There are solutions and resources that come and go,” continues Thurman. “But I constantly get comments like ‘We have VirtualJobShadsow.com next year, right? That’s not going away, is it?’ Those kind of comments. So I know it is of huge importance to teachers.”
But in the end, what truly matters is whether VirtualJobShadow.com actually helps the department fulfill its mission.
“When we’re looking at hard numbers, the students involved in CTE graduate at a higher rate,” says Thurman. “I’m definitely secure in stating that VirtualJobShadow.com strengthens our CTE program, and involvement in CTE does increase graduation rates.”
VirtualJobShadow.com is proud to be a part of strengthening HISD’s CTE Department and will continue to innovate and create new solutions so that when HISD students graduate, they are ready for “life after high school."