While many school districts focus their college and career readiness initiatives on middle and high school students, Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) has been advancing career exploration in its elementary schools for many years.
Committed to implementing innovative 21st century programs in its schools, FCPS administrators struggled to find high quality career exploration software designed specifically for K-5. There was no one product on the market that checked all the boxes.
When Maria Dunn Sherrod, a counselor at Fayetteville Elementary, discovered VirtualJobShadow.com, she felt that the engaging job shadowing videos would impact younger students in ways text-based resources could not. Sherrod explained, “The videos on VirtualJobShadow.com helped supplement some of the other tools we were using to help with K-5 career exploration.”
As Georgia standards for K-5 career exploration increased with each passing year, Sherrod turned to the developers of VirtualJobShadow.com for assistance. What began as a request to build K-5 activities into the existing career preparation platform led to a much larger conversation about the development of a brand-new K-5 career exploration platform.
VirtualJobShadow.com Chief Technology Officer Ilya Gorelik credits Sherrod and other FCPS staff for their determination to develop the resources needed to help prepare their youngest students for future success. Gorelik explained, “If it weren’t for their commitment and patience to work through many iterations involved in software development, there is no way we would have been able to build VJS Junior as quickly as we did.”
When VJS Junior finally launched in Spring 2018, its very first users were the K-5 schools at FCPS.
Lakisha Bonner, FCPS Coordinator of Counseling and Career Development, discussed the immediate impact VJS Junior had on students. “When I walked into a classroom, the counselor told the kids that they had time for one more video. She had four different pictures on the screen and asked them which one they wanted to watch. The kids all screamed: ‘STRAWBERRIES!’”
Bonner explained that the students saw how the strawberries were planted, picked, cleaned, packaged, and shipped all the way to their refrigerator.
“It was no longer, ‘Magic! The strawberries appear!’ I use this as an example of how we’re teaching kids about careers, and how it opens them up to so many things that they may not have been aware of or otherwise exposed to in school,” said Bonner. “The feedback I’ve gotten from the counselors about VJS Junior is always positive.”
As other states follow Georgia’s lead in implementing K-5 career exploration mandates, K-5 schools across the nation are rapidly adopting VJS Junior.
In addition to exposing elementary students to careers they never knew existed, VJS Junior helps students identify their own strengths and interests. The process of doing so can help strengthen those who may be struggling emotionally, socially, or academically.
Bonner attested to the multifaceted impact of VJS Junior. “A lot of the social anxiety that students have is because they’re trying to fit into someone else’s shoes. So, the earlier and the more we have students talking about their differences, the better. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay that our paths are different. Some of the anxiety & depression is because of the unknown or because they feel they haven’t measured up. Talk early about what they’re good at and what they’re interested in.”
Bonner’s hope for students is that they leave elementary school with an understanding of their individual plans. Instead of comparing themselves against one another, she wants students to recognize what makes them uniquely special and gifted. In order to support them, she said, “I encourage parents to keep an open mind about careers and know that ultimately, it’s about what your child wants, is interested in, and where they will do well.”
“Not every career has a box,” says Sherrod, “and I want students to think outside the box. A lot of the clusters are intertwined, and I tell them: ‘If you can create a career out of something that you’re passionate about, then you make a new niche for yourself.’ When they open up their eyes to those possibilities, things start making sense.”
The creators of VJS Junior feel the same way. Helping students become aware of the depth and breadth of career opportunities available to them is the critical first step in positioning them to achieve success in the 21st century world.