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Career Focus gives students opportunity to explore pathways

Kent ISD — Students in instructor Debra Rajaratne’s class were considering what they’d want if they owned a computer and how much they were willing to spend on one, when one declared he would not spend more than $100.

Rajaratne looked up from where she was helping another student and tilted her head in consideration. 

“I am not sure you can get a computer for $100,” she said.

The students were working on a marketing research project in their business services course that included information on the cost of computers. The class is part of the Kent Career Tech Center’s Career Focus program, formerly called pre-vocational ed. Rajaratne is the business services instructor.

Career Focus, one of several programs that came out of the merger of the Tech Center and the former Kent Transition Center, is a year-long program where students can develop vocational skills while exploring potential career paths.

“In looking at the data, we saw many students jumping from program to program when attending the Kent Transition Center,” said Sara Van, Tech Center assistant principal. As a result, staff saw a need for a program where students could explore several options.

Because it is only an exploration elective, Career Focus is not a state-approved career and technical education program. Participants must be in 11th grade. In its first year, there were 53 students in Career Focus.

Students work on soft skills such as communication, self advocacy, collaboration, self awareness and health and safety. Three quarters are spent exploring careers in human services, industrial technology and business services. Within each pathway, students collaborate on a community project and have opportunities to partner with CTE students to learn specific skills or observe lab experiences.

“Often the students are not (otherwise) given the opportunity to explore their own interests,” Van said. “This program is working toward their interest area to a preferred employment area.”

The goal is to broaden opportunities by providing hands-on learning, she added. 

‘Learning to not just do it, but be good at it’

Recently, one student in the industrial technology workshop picked up a sander without hesitation and began working on a plaque. Instructor Barry Wackerle did a quick check to make sure the student’s technique was correct.

“It builds their confidence,” Wackerle said. Within industrial arts, students learn, hands on, about automotive, manufacturing and construction paths. “The program is giving them their first opportunity to do something for themselves and not just do it, but be good at it.”

Wackerle, who has been teaching for 19 years, said he has observed that Career Focus students have a desire to expand their knowledge, which has made seeing their growth even more enjoyable.

In another lesson, Wackerle’s students watched a video about washing and detailing a car. 

“I think I would only charge $20 for my family to wash their car,” said one student.

“Actually, you might want to charge more than that,” Wackerle said. “You can make a decent living hand-washing cars, and there is a demand out there for it.”

Career Focus students sand plaques that other students have made

Up-close Career Exploration

In human services instructor Teyondra Burch’s class, students were learning about food allergens, then creating a poster that includes eight tips about them. The project was part of the hospitality portion of the course, which also includes teaching and child care.

“By providing them the opportunity to explore these different careers, they are able to figure out if they are comfortable in that field,” Burch said.

Earlier in the class, students spent time observing and then helping with a preschool program housed at the Tech Center West. They learned about interacting with children by playing with and reading to them, and how to make healthy meals.

“They are learning what a career in child care looks like,” Burch said. “Do they feel comfortable with younger kids in child care, or would they rather work with the general public, such as in hospitality, or with tools such as trades?”

Finding a Passion, Next Steps

Back in Rajaratne’s business services class, the students continued their market research assignment. The lesson also taught them computer skills such as how to clip photos and include them in a slide deck presentation.

Instructor Debra Rajaratne tosses a bean bag during a cornhole game with students

Rajaratne said she tried to build multiple layers into the section so students learn different aspects. The business services class focuses on marketing, retail and office services. The marketing lesson taught about research and retail with students learning the four Ps of product, pricing, place and promotion. 

“So even if the students decide not to pursue marketing or retail, they have some understanding about those industries as they are making their own purchases,” she said.

After the Career Focus program, students can enter the Tech Center’s Intro to CTE programs, where they’ll spend a year focused on a pathway of marketing, hospitality or automotive. Another option is CORE, which has a work-based learning component

Van said the team is exploring options for Career Focus students to collaborate on campus and in the community. Those experiences may include field trips to businesses that align and visits to work-based learning sites to see other students at work in the community. 

Read more from Kent ISD: 
New commercial kitchen ready to teach the next top chefs
Kent ISD program helps launch aviation careers for high-schoolers

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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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