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New initiative aims to connect students with careers & schools with employers

Kent ISD — Kyle Ewen would be the first to admit that most people probably do not know what a surgical technologist is, much less that there is such a job. In fact, she was not aware of it either, until someone suggested it as a possible career.

To help create awareness of her position and others at Corewell Health, Ewen was a guest at the Kent ISD Career Chats, a weekly, 40-minute virtual series that gives 7th- to 12th-graders the opportunity to hear from those in fields they are interested in about what they do, their day-to-day responsibilities and how to learn more about that career. 

“For health care, you should take time and ask a lot of questions,” Ewen told students. “Take some time to figure it out. No one should know the exact job they want when coming out of high school.”

East Kentwood junior Selina Amanuel said the Career Chat helped to lessen her career anxiety and inspired her to work hard in school to achieve her goals. 

Classmate Ashley Matejovitz said she too liked hearing about Ewan’s experience, and that Ewan’s colleagues worked as a team. 

“It was so helpful to hear that it took a little while for her to figure out what she wanted to do for a career,” Ashley said. “It made me realize we don’t have to necessarily know what we are going to do or how we are going to do it right away.”

Sue Gardner, Kent ISD assistant superintendent of career and talent development

Kent ISD-wide

Hosted by Krista Harmon, Kent ISD workforce development consultant, Career Chats are part of Kent ISD’s new Career and Talent Development initiative, formed in response to needs expressed by parents, local districts and business partners. 

“We created a new department to pursue this initiative of dramatically increasing the career exploration, career training and work-based learning opportunities for students throughout the region, across all of Kent ISD,” said Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Koehler.

Sue Gardner, assistant superintendent of career and talent development, oversees the initiative, which has two teams: Career Readiness, led by Cary Stamas; and Workforce Development, led by Ryan Graham.

Koheler said it boils down to engaging students by letting them explore what interests them. Kent ISD has already seen success with that philosophy at the Kent Career Tech Center.

“What you find at the Tech Center is those students who complete a course of study there are far more likely to be enrolled in post-secondary education than the population as a whole, and are far more likely to be employed in that field if they’re not in school,” Koehler said. 

“So it’s a matter of helping students find relevance in their education, (in) the content that we’re providing to them to understand how they’re going to use it in life, and to get excited about it and to be engaged in their instruction.”

Helping Students Explore Potential Career Paths

Kent ISD has had a Career & College Readiness program for about eight years. The aim of the program is career exploration and planning for K-12 students; and on training, consulting and support for educators who bring career exploration to their classrooms and schools. 

One example is the STEM program at North Godwin Elementary. Looking to focus on the engineering aspect, Kent ISD career readiness consultants attended school trainings to help staff connect the STEM curriculum to career skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication. 

Another aspect of career readiness will be to work with districts to create educational development plans for students. An EDP is an evolving plan developed by each student to identify career goals and plans related to their interests and abilities. 

“It’s supposed to start at seventh grade, where the students are doing a lot of career exploration and assessments,” Gardner said. “Many times people have just done that really quick, just to check the box and it’s done. 

“But we’re really trying to make it meaningful, to what are the best things you can do for students in seventh and eighth grade and help them update that every year by asking ‘Is this really what I want to do? And if this is really what I want to do, what are my opportunities in Kent County to do that?’” 

Building on the EDP, Gardner is working to develop a talent profile that  high school students would be able to show potential employers. The profile would feature work-related accomplishments such as college credits and certificates earned, and other related skills.

Workforce Development Director Ryan Graham with a list of local business and industries that currently partner with the Kent Career Tech Center

Creating An Entryway

Started this fall, the Workforce Development team will focus on partnerships with local businesses and agencies, and on creating and growing work-based learning opportunities, such as job shadowing and internships.

The team has been meeting with local businesses and organizations to introduce community leaders to the program, showcase what is offered at Kent ISD and learn about the needs of local businesses. The Workforce Development team also has connected with such groups as TalentFirst, The Right Place, West Michigan Works! and Hello West Michigan.

“What we were finding is that businesses were not sure how to get involved with local schools,” Graham said. “What we will be trying to do is build an entryway that makes it easier for businesses to connect to schools, and for schools to connect to businesses.”

The Workforce Development team will be a “one-stop” source for employers, Graham said. For example, Meijer hires area high school students for positions such as cashiers and stockers, and the Cascade location has partnered with Kent ISD’s special education program to provide work-based learning. At the same time, Kent ISD has been talking to Meijer about a partnership with the Tech Center’s pharmacy program.

Graham said the Workforce Development team can serve as a first contact for any business looking to employ students, rather than having businesses  contact local districts individually. The team also will help local districts  develop their own career & technical education programs. 

Koehler said knowing what local districts are offering helps Kent ISD better plan advanced or high-level coursework that will keep students engaged in their learning.

“We want to provide the local districts all the expertise necessary to have fully accredited courses with reimbursement for appropriate staff who are delivering those courses,” he said. 

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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