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'Careers I never knew existed'

Pitsco Careers Labs in Southwest (TX) ISD effective at helping eighth graders plan for HS endorsements

Published August 16, 2016
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At a glance

  • Pitsco careers lab gives students exposure to possibilities they had never considered.
  • Southwest ISD's career counselor reports that the lab has led to increased thoughtfulness from students about their future paths.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – Eighth grade is a year of transition; it’s one last chance to prepare for the rigors and mysteries of high school. Giving students another healthy dose of language, math, science, and social studies is important, but it hardly seems adequate for such a pivotal year.

In Southwest ISD, a new course is unfolding as a means to prepare students for not only what lies ahead in high school but also their future careers. Careers Lab is exactly that – a hands-on workspace where eighth graders learn about various careers they might never have considered before through exploration and experiences in the Pitsco Education Modules program.

“Students really do need to have exposure to what a work life might be like or what it could entail in careers they’ve never heard of,” said McAuliffe Middle School Careers Lab Facilitator Ben Lagueux. “They know retail, they know restaurants, they know construction trades a little bit. But they don’t know the estimating side. They don’t know that math is required to be a contractor who works for himself until they come in here.”

Here is the Pitsco lab outfitted with a dozen workstations where students collaborate in pairs for 7-10 days to experience Modules covering topics such as astronomy, home makeover, electricity, and plants and pollination. Students use equipment, materials, and software in combinations that professionals use in real workplaces, prompting students to ask questions, have discussions, and hatch ideas about which classes they might want to take when they move on to Southwest High School in a few months.

Lining up well with what’s covered on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills testing related to careers, the Modules are a perfect fit, according to Lagueux. “There isn’t a better way to do it than this. If you’re in Plants & Pollination, you’re studying things that farmers and ranchers, not just researchers and horticulturalists, do. Students learn about stuff that translates into whole career fields.”

Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence proving that students are being properly prepared in the Careers Lab comes from the district’s career counselor, Kathleen Winwright, who meets with eighth graders each year to help them create a class schedule for their freshman year.

“With House Bill 5 that’s been passed by the Texas State Legislature, the kids have to have a four-year plan, and we need to make sure they get an endorsement in a career area. As eighth graders, they have to choose, which is really tough,” Winwright said. “This year when I went down there, these kids, they knew what they wanted. They had already been exploring careers. They had gotten an idea of what fitted them. This was the easiest year.”

Winwright spent time observing Lagueux’s students explore, build, and create in the Pitsco lab before coming back to help them complete their first high school class schedules. “I could tell by being in the classroom and seeing some of the stuff he had up about the different careers; I really can attribute that to the fact the kids had ideas of what careers were.”

To further prepare students, a college and career exploration day at UT-San Antonio was held after students conducted research about colleges and created posters.

Eighth grader Alejandro was excited to learn in the lab that he will have options when he graduates. “You get that one idea of what your career might be when you’re young and they ask you in elementary. Then you grow up and maybe you can’t get into that career. So you might as well have a backup plan to join another career.”

Lagueux is eager to see what year number two in the Careers Lab brings this fall, and he hopes to reach students the same way he did this past year. “I had end-of-year presents from two of my best students, and one told me, ‘Sir, I want to thank you for exposing me to careers I never knew existed.’ And I didn’t even think of this Synergy STEM classroom as a careers classroom at the time. But this boy made that connection. His takeaway was, ‘This is a great class to learn about careers.’”

“I love all of the hands-on activities! The enthusiasm from all of the presenters was wonderful. I enjoyed the hands-on activities and the incorporation of ELA into each lesson . . . real life!”

– Fifth-grade teacher, Grand Prairie ISD, Frontiers of Flight event

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