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Mental health checks and career exploration find virtual home in school districts

Local districts pilot online program

Sparta — Eighth-grader Lala Wolford said she’s been inspired while exploring careers with an online tool the district rolled out for student use this year. 

“One of them was at NASA,” Lala said. “I’ve always been interested in astronomy and astrophysics, and when I saw these on Mavin I got really excited to learn more about a job I’ve been interested in,” she said. “And it is very helpful to know what they are looking for in that job, whether it’s what degree you need or if they are looking for a determined person.” 

The district is piloting the use of Mavin, an online program for students in grades 6 through 12 to explore careers and for administrators to keep tabs on student mental health — both for in-person and distance learners.

Exploring Opportunities                                                                                         

Every day there is a short description of a job students may not have considered

Students log in daily to read and answer questions about a career topic. Even those already settled on a career, like junior Ava Case and senior Alex Bennett, understand the overall benefit.

“I do think it is cool that it has actual companies, and I know it inspires some students,” said Alex, who has her sights set on attending Ferris State University to work toward a career in graphic design.     

“I haven’t found much about writing,” said Ava, who aspires to a career as an author or in journalism, “but there have been some cool jobs, like for Twitter or Spotify.”

Eighth-grader Owen Fisk said he really enjoys the career piece of Mavin.  “I have found a lot of careers that appeal to me and jobs that appeal to me,” he said, adding that he and his friends often talk about jobs they read about on the site.

Sparta High School counselor Teresa Converse said the career exploration piece of Mavin is intended to “continue conservation. The idea is to help kids explore careers they might have interest in,” she said.

The localization of the online program is what impresses Converse. 

“It is important that some of our students that have roots here continue to grow this community,” she said. “This helps explore careers and work nearby, like Armock, Cascade Die and the graphics places. The students can find internships that can grow into good careers, and can find out more about opportunities bordering this area.”

Mavin uses emojis to help students identity emotions they are experiencing

Emotional Check-ins

Keeping tabs on student emotional health has long been a challenge for school staff, said Sparta Superintendent Pete Bush. 

Students are required to log onto Mavin every day: first up is a one-word list of emotions represented by emojis. They choose the one that most closely resembles how they feel at that moment, then rate the intensity on a scale of 1 to 10.

Counselors at Sparta check the results two to three times a week, and Converse said many students have wanted to talk about COVID, but wouldn’t necessarily start the conversation; at times staff has found out that a student’s family member has died with COVID but wouldn’t bring it up without being approached.

“It definitely gives us a chance to open conversations,” she said. 

Layla really likes the daily check. “In school, I don’t really worry about my feelings because I’m busy doing school work, but filling the emotional piece helps me see how I am doing. And if someone came to talk to me about my answer, I wouldn’t mind. For example, if I was sad it is nice to get things off my chest and talk to someone.”

Ava said she was once pulled out of class to talk. “I was going through a rough patch and it was fine,” she said. “Usually if I am upset it is because of my anxiety, and I know it already. So I don’t find it personally helpful, but it might be good for someone who needs to figure out how they are feeling.”

Mavin facilitator John Kraus, who is instructional director at Muskegon ISD, said there are huge advantages to assessing daily mental health of students, and that it has prompted administrators to intervene in serious student mental health crises. 

Northview High counselor Sarah Gammans calls the tracker “an early warning system,” and called the response from students “tremendous.”

Watch a simulation of the Mavin emotional wellness tool used daily by Northview students and some staff

More about Mavin 

Mavin was created by Mavin Global, a Midwest-based education and workforce company. It was founded in 2010 by former executives in management consulting, education, and product and workforce development.

Since Mavin is coordinated through Muskegon ISD and works throughout the West Michigan Talent Triangle, or Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties, “many schools are engaging with it at least in conversation,” said Bush, the Sparta superintendent. 

Northview Public Schools was the first Kent ISD district to implement the program, Bush said.

Northview Principal Mark Thomas said the partnership between the district, area employers and employment agencies has coordinated with West Michigan workforce development coalition Talent 2025, and represents the work of some 160 companies and CEOs, and the MiSTEM Network.

Administrators and teachers are trained on the program through facilitation by Muskegon ISD. 

Today, Kraus said secondary principals are seeing the value and intent: Mavin has over 100,000 registered users across the state and continues to grow.

“We are really still in our infancy in Sparta and the COVID challenges have slowed our progress a bit, but we are still moving forward,” Bush said of the initiative implemented through Muskegon ISD.

“Sparta has been a true leader in this public private partnership,” said John Kraus, Muskegon ISD Mavin coordinator. “The program has really ignited under Pete’s leadership. He has been phenomenal in taking a risk with this program and allowing us to make necessary changes as we expand.”

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Janice Holst
Janice Holst
Janice Holst was a reporter for SNN covering Kent City and Sparta. She has been both a teacher and a journalist. A former MLive reporter, she wrote features and covered local government and schools for Advance Newspapers for nearly two decades. She also was a recipe columnist and wrote features for Mature Life Style and occasional entertainment pieces for On The Town magazines. She lives in Sparta Township and enjoys spending some of her retirement hours writing the stories of the northern Kent County school districts.


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