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N. Buncombe Middle School Success with Career Exploration Tool Pushes for Use in Elementary Schools

By Chris Pennington - August 8, 2019

With federal and state demands for standardized testing in core K-12 disciplines (including English, Math, Science and Social Studies), it’s easy to overlook student need for broader areas of knowledge and diverse skills relevant to successful careers (e.g.: teamwork, collaboration, professional writing, resume preparation, and time management).

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To that end, Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs across the nation have risen to the challenge, reminding schools and communities that today’s world of work requires an employee who couples strong soft skills with a willingness to learn new ways of working. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% percent of children entering elementary school today will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet. In other words, today’s youngest students require skills that start with flexibility, adaptability, and motivation to learn new things.

To better prepare students for this ever-changing, 21st century world of work, educators have been turning to VirtualJobShadow.com, an interactive career exploration platform that empowers middle and high school students to explore a wide variety of careers and workforce skills, especially careers in new and emerging fields (eg: Video Game Testers). And the best part is that students can now “job shadow” without their schools acquiring transportation and liability challenges associated with traditional job shadowing (transporting students to a physical job site).

This is how VirtualJobShadow.com works: (1) Students log into individual accounts, (2) Complete a series of student-friendly interest/skills assessments providing reports that point to “best fit” careers, and (3) Engage with interactive college and career content, including high energy career videos that feature real employees from diverse backgrounds serving in 17 Career Clusters. This approach lets students take control of their learning, working at a self-selected pace that introduces them to such tasks as resume completion and applying for real-world jobs.

One of the many teachers who sees the value of VirtualJobShadow.com is Sherry Peek, a family consumer science teacher at North Buncombe Middle School in Weaverville, NC. This recently named “Teacher of the Year” speaks highly of the way that the platform changes student learning experiences.

Since incorporating VirtualJobShadow.com into a project requiring students to research restaurant-related careers and plan and design their own restaurants, Peek has been impressed with the way the program cultivates critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As a busy teacher, she also appreciates that the platform allows her to easily create and assign standards-aligned, individualized lessons to students.

Peek’s career education program has received positive feedback from parents and students alike. One parent raved that her daughter would have never known about so many career options had she not explored diverse careers on VirtualJobShadow.com. Peek explained, “For our kids, they know doctor, lawyer, fireman - the basic handful. But what VirtualJobShadow.com offers is a valuable resource to see other career options…along with the skillset and areas of interest of each student.”

Peek provided this example when asked about the way that VirtualJobShadow.com opens and expands career learning experiences. Students may be interested in the medical field, but struggle to see themselves becoming a registered nurse or having the resources to attend nursing school. Through VirtualJobShadow.com, students are exposed to many levels of nursing, enabling them to find a niche in the medical field that fits their interests and academic goals. With the platform’s videos, career profiles, and college research tools, they could learn how to earn a CNA certification while still in high school, meaning they avoid the larger cost of a post-secondary CNA program.

She also added that while her school district, like most across the nation, does not have the resources to send every student into the community to experience traditional job shadows, VirtualJobShadow.com provides a cost-effective and equitable way to bring career exploration to everyone. In fact, VirtualJobShadow.com has been such a success with the more than 300 middle school students taking exploratory classes at North Buncombe Middle School, that Peek has taken it upon herself to promote elementary exploration through the district-wide adoption of VJS Junior.

VJS Junior, the K-5 software counterpart to VirtualJobShadow.com, facilitates career exploration with engaging lessons that are customized to the grade level of the end user. The platform integrates animation, video, and interactive career activities by delivering engaging lessons focused around Career Clusters. Elementary students are guided by multicultural, superhero characters who connect jobs to the students’ lives. For example, they can see how milk gets from a cow to their school milk carton. With VJS Junior, students as young as Kindergarten start to understand the concept of a self-selected career.

As a middle school teacher, Peek sees the advantage of starting young with career research. “As a CTE teacher, I see the need. The more we get students aware of different jobs available to them, the more they will embrace unique and rigorous college and career possibilities.” While not alone in her commitment to middle school student career exploration, Peek is definitely leading the charge to make career exploration in Buncombe County Schools relevant, engaging, and impactful.

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