New project helps students explore career paths


JASPER — For sophomores at Jasper High School, English class now includes a semester-long dive into career planning.

English teachers Abby Kennedy and Amy Rasche designed the project-based learning — or PBL — assignment after attending a PBL training at Hub 19, which is a collaboration between the four Dubois County school corporations to help Dubois County students learn the skills local employers want.

As the two teachers designed the project, they also thought about the new graduation requirements that rolled out for the class of 2023. Dubbed Graduation Pathways, the new requirements put an emphasis on career exploration, hands-on learning experiences and employability skills as defined by the Department of Workforce Development. Kennedy and Rasche wanted the project to include all of that.

“It is a change in the curriculum to have a project-based learning project,” Kennedy said. “But it checks off part of the new diploma requirements.”

Students start by researching careers that interest them before narrowing it down to one career that they will explore in-depth. From there, the students research what it takes to earn a spot in that career field, locations, salaries and benefits and even how much traveling would be involved.

“We’re looking at things like: Would you be OK traveling for your job? Would you be OK with working nights?” Kennedy said. “Those little things you don’t think about as a teenager.”

The project also includes developing a 10-year plan, drafting résumés and cover letters and guest speakers from local companies. Last week, students in the morning English classes heard from Kate Schwenk, a human resources associate with Jasper Engines and Transmissions. Representatives from MasterBrand spoke to the afternoon classes.

In her presentation, Schwenk encouraged the students to look at all facets of a company — Jasper Engines and Transmissions employs nurses, pilots and accountants, to name a few, in addition to mechanics — and the many pathways that can lead to a successful career. Four-year college degrees aren’t the only options, she told the students.

“We have a lot of careers for people who want to come straight from high school,” she said. “We want people who show up on time and work hard.”

She also pointed out that oftentimes, two-year technical degrees lead to the best paying jobs in a company.

She ended her presentation talking about the importance of first impressions, starting with the voicemail message on your cellphone, to how you treat the receptionist when you come in for an interview and ending with your performance in the interview itself.

“We like to say at Jasper Engines, ‘Every day is an interview,’” she told the students.

This year is the first year Kennedy and Rasche have done the project, but they already have plans to build on it. Next year, they’d like to add more guest speakers and have the capstone be a career fair where students can share what they’ve learned. This year, the students are still taking the high school ISTEP exam, so Rasche and Kennedy have to work the project around that. Next year, the ISTEP exam will be phased out.

The biggest goal is for the students to walk away from the project with a better idea of their career path and post-secondary plan. So far, that seems to be happening.

“The students tell me they like it,” Kennedy said. “They say it’s giving them the kind of information they want and that it’s relevant to their lives.”

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