Career Exploration Middle School

We know from research that many high schools have serious trouble engaging their students in learning. These high schools have low attendance rates, low test scores, and low graduation rates. Many of the kids from these schools end up in crime, prostitution, drugs, and prison. The school district’s answer is to push the kids off onto continuation schools or online courses. These alternatives do not constitute a real high school education, nor do they engage young people in learning. They are just being dumped to make the individual high school’s statistics look better.

As a permanent educational intervention to address this problem, I propose high school career academies as the solution. Again, research shows career academies engage high school students in learning, graduate high proportions of their students, prepare them for employment, and grads find employment at high rates. Clearly, the career academy is the best intervention solution for America’s high schools. However, what if we, as a country, went further to begin career education in the middle school to introduce this motivational student engagement education at an earlier age.

We know the highest proportion of high school dropouts occurs in the ninth grade. Thus, beginning to educate youngsters about careers and their relevance to education at an earlier point in their education makes sense. The sixth grade is young, but a general career education course at this point would be appropriate. The reality is that many kids from poverty areas only know about police and teacher occupations. And for these occupations, they don’t know what it takes to prepare for them. A career exploration course can serve to expose youngsters to the plethora of occupations in America. The course content can provide information about professional occupations that require college, technical level occupations that require community college, and skilled occupations that require high school career technical education found in high school career academies. The career exploration course would offer many speakers from business and field trips to businesses to actually visit workers on the job.

In the seventh grade, I envision a multiple-part industrial technology education course. This course should expose students with hands-on experience in machine technology, construction technology, graphics and printing technology, and automotive technology. By including all students, girls would be exposed to jobs that they would not normally think appropriate for females. Traditionally, these occupations tend to pay better than historical jobs for females.

In the eighth grade, I envision a quarter of computer education, a quarter of marketing education, a quarter of child development, and a quarter of health occupations. This experience will expose males to nontraditional occupations for men.

Throughout this three-year career exploration program, soft employment skills and work ethics skills will be emphasized. Thus, these concepts will not be alien to the kids when they arrive at high school career academies. At the end of the eighth grade, all students will have high school counselors come to the middle school to explain about career academy options for high school. These meetings will include the eighth grade student’s parents. Career academy high school enrollment must be an optional choice for the student and parent. The idea is that the middle school career exploration program will provide a rich background in occupations to enable the students to choose a career academy that interests them for their high school education.

We know the relevance of preparing for work engages young people in their high school education. This middle school career exploration program can build an understanding of the relevance of a high school education to gaining a job. This relevance of a career curriculum will develop self-esteem in the middle school students. This self-esteem will be supported in the high school career academy that in conjunction with learning high- level technical skills will lead to high attendance, high employment skills, high graduation rate and a high employment rate upon graduation. This early start career exploration program for middle schools will address average and low achieving student’s reason for staying in high school. In turn, staying in high school and learning employable skills will result in fewer negative activities after they leave high school. Therefore, one could say that this career exploration program, in conjunction with career academies can literally save lives.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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