North Carolina’s Henderson County Public Schools had a real “aha moment” when they surveyed their middle and high school students. Over three-quarters of students said parents, grandparents, and guardians influenced them most when it came to making career choices. “We focus so much energy on educating those in the building,” said Dr. Wendy Frye, Director of High Schools and Career and Technology Education, “but when you get that feedback, you realize we need more outreach to parents and guardians.”
That survey, along with multiple internal discussions, resulted in a new approach to career exploration called “Career Conversations." Launched in September, the optional program encourages families to embrace career exploration together to provide support and resources to help facilitate classroom discussions and the important conversations happening at home.
Using N.C. Career & Technical Education curriculum’s “Six Essential Employability Skills” of Communication, Ethics, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Resource Management and Teamwork as monthly focuses, the program also incorporates college and career readiness resource VirtualJobShadow.com.
Integrating VirtualJobShadow.com was an easy choice given many of the district’s middle and high school students were already actively using the platform. During the 2019-20 school year, Henderson County Public Schools students viewed more than 9,000 job shadowing videos and completed 3,862 career assessments through the website. VirtualJobShadow.com also provided a flexible way for all students to view hundreds of job shadowing and life skills videos online, which became even more important once COVID-19 forced the abrupt switch to remote learning.
With the program’s pillars in place, Henderson County Public Schools then turned to Public Information Officer Molly McGowan Gorsuch to create a district-wide communication strategy. Each month, an e-newsletter is sent to every middle and high school family in the district, including conversation starters related to the “Six Essential Employability Skills.” October's focus, “Communication”, prompted students to ask parents questions like “What communication skills do you use in your career” and “What communication skills do you think are important to be successful in any career”?
Each middle and high school within the district can also adapt “Career Conversations” based on their specific resources and needs. Hendersonville Middle School implemented “What Do You Want to be When You Grow Up Wednesdays,” in which students receive a different career development prompt. And North Hendersonville High School seniors focus on career development, especially employability and job-seeking skills, during their Senior Lead time.
Ultimately, “Career Conversations” is not just a career exploration program but a communication vehicle designed to bring students and families together when it comes to important life decisions. Dr. Frye hopes that it is not just the students who benefit from these discussions but also the parents and guardians who might be inspired by what they learn as part of the program.