Lake County Partners is fortunate to work with incredibly skilled educational leaders who are training the next generation of talent in Lake County. In pursuit of the best way to arm young students with the in-demand skills that they need to flourish in the workplace, innovators like Gina Schuyler at Grayslake D127 are shaking up the traditional mold and charting a new path forward in education. Illinois schools and the businesses they serve will benefit immensely.
For years in Lake County, we have talked collectively about the need for a means to recognize students and employers who both engage with early career exploration and readiness. The Illinois School Board of Education (ISBE) has provided those means to us, and local Lake County Schools are already taking advantage of the opportunity.
In the 2019/2020 school year, Grayslake D127 became a pilot for the Illinois State Career Pathway Endorsement Process. They were one of 12 schools in the state at the time that decided to dive into this project. A grant through Ed System NIU allowed the district to help begin this groundbreaking project. It consists of 4 main parts to highlight to businesses that students are invested in a career pathway. The endorsement is a seal on a student’s transcript that clearly demonstrates the student has dedicated his or her high school education to fully learning about a career pathway and participating in activities and classes that distinguish them from other peers entering the field.
When a student comes out with this seal in “manufacturing,” “education,” “health science,” or ”information technology,” how are businesses recognizing these students? Do they receive preferred hiring or increased wages? How are post-secondary institutions recognizing this? Through scholarships or acceptance into programs or training? These discussions are vital to advancing the initiative as well as protecting the best interests of students and businesses alike. These days, talent is paramount, and workforce skills factor heavily into business location decisions. There is truly no better time for the educational system and community to work together and embark on a new frontier that will ultimately benefit employers, employees and the local economy.
HOW DOES THE ENDORSEMENT PROCESS WORK?
The first tier is for students to identify a career area of interest. It is very important to note that this does not mean that students are locked into a career decision during their freshman year of high school. Instead, during a student’s freshman year, we begin engaging in a set of awareness activities to help the students narrow down their likes and dislikes to be able to make better-informed post-secondary education decisions. Students don’t know what they are not exposed to and frankly, some students are not exposed to enough career options. All too often, the only option that is shared with them after high school is a 4-year college or university.
This is where someone like Gina Schuyler comes into play – she is the CTE Department Chair for Careers & Community Partnerships at Grayslake D127. Gina connects the community and world of work with the students and the schools. She introduced the district to YouScience; YouScience is a set of 11 brain-based games the students play to help identify both their interest and aptitude in many different career options. This tool begins conversations on different careers that might interest a student, and establishes a mentorship framework that can support their interests.
For example, if a student expresses an interest in health science, the software offers hundreds of health science options – it does not limit the exploration to traditional, well-known positions like doctors and nurses. Additionally, a counselor can suggest classes that align with that pathway, such as anatomy, certified nursing assistant, biomedical, or medical assisting for consideration. There are also clubs and activities for students to join that align with their interests, such as future medical professionals, NTHS and SKILLS USA.
These classes and clubs give a student perspective, and help them put the experiences into two buckets of “I like it and I want to learn more” or “I didn’t like it and I am ready to explore another discipline,” and then we begin a conversation about what they did not like. We will be adding a career readiness product called SchooLinks to this to allow our counselors, CTE teachers and internship coordinators to all collaborate with students together.
The second tier in the career pathway endorsement process gives students the opportunity to take early college credit classes in their identified area of interest – minimally 6 credits (2 classes). Early college credit can be offered in dual credit, articulated credit or AP credit. This highlights the student’s commitment and interest in this career area. For example, if students are interested in becoming a teacher, Grayslake D127 offers about 4 different classes with early college credit (Child Development, Teaching Practicum, Parenting & Relationship and Early Education & Teaching (offered through the Lake County Tech Campus). In any pathway that is approved by the state, Gina aligns to ensure that students who gain the endorsement have at least two classes in their field that also earn them early college credit. This early college credit is a cost savings to the student or families as this class not does not need to be taken after high school. Many of these classes offer hands on lab experiences that tie into the third.
The third tier is for students to gain professional learning from the community and take learning beyond the traditional walls of the school or classroom. This includes awareness, preparation, and exploration activities that provide opportunities for students to interact with adults in the workplace. Our goal is to provide students the opportunity to gain 60 hours (over 4 years) of supervised career development opportunities. Examples include internships, job shadowing, practicums, employment and more.
In this third tier, we also want to provide students with career exploration activities as well as team challenges. Examples of career exploration activities could be, but are not limited to, site visits to employers, virtual experiences, career expos, and mock interviews. Team challenges can take place within a lab-based classroom such as a “skills check” through an employer or through involvement in Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) such as Skills USA, FBLA, FCCLA or NTHS. Schools such as Grayslake D127 continually seek employer participation and partnerships through their Careers & Community Partnership Chair. The SchooLinks product will also serve as our business partnership hub to push out invites to our community as well as keep track of students experiences.
The final tier is ensuring students are both reading and math ready for post-secondary options. Should a student choose to attend college, this would mean the student is entering into the collegiate system taking credit-bearing classes (and not remedial to address any deficiencies). If a student is entering the trades or other type of post-secondary education, there are means such as SAT score, class rank, and entrance exams that provide a window of readiness needed for that profession.
Grayslake D127 graduated its first “endorsed” students this year. Five students from Grayslake Central and Grayslake North High School graduated with the “Health Science Endorsement.” Many of these students also came out of high school having already passing their CNA exams. Through a private donor to the school, each student was awarded $1000 to use toward their career pursuit – but that is just the start.
WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR STUDENTS & SCHOOLS?
As other schools in Lake County also begin to embrace this cutting-edge endorsement process for their students, Grayslake is pioneering a discussion with partners in the Lake County Workforce Ecosystem – including Lake County Partners, Lake County Workforce Development and Regional Superintendent Dr. Michael Karner – to garner support for the initiative, establish best practices, and chart a path forward that increases participation and support. This is especially pertinent as a new House Bill proposes offering the career endorsement process in all Illinois schools in the coming years.
To fuel this program and ensure its success, we need buy-in from the business community. This starts with educating and engaging local business leaders so that they can more quickly tap into Lake County’s extraordinary talent pipeline.
HOW CAN I LEARN MORE?
If your business is interested in getting involved and working with highly-skilled students in the endorsement pathway, contact us and we will be happy to connect you with Grayslake D127. Learn more about the innovative Lake County Workforce Ecosystem that is fueling local talent and connecting employers with job candidates here.