Mesa is hoping a program to encourage younger students to think about career paths will lead to more success for them after high school.
In 2010, Mesa Unified School District, Mesa Community College and the city were awarded a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation. From that launched Mesa Counts on College, an ambitious program to double the number of college degree completions in Mesa in 10 years.
A public event for eighth- and ninth graders later this month is an “introduction” of sorts for the program to the community, said Kathy Bareiss, who is helping guide the school district’s efforts with the grant.
At most college fairs, representatives sit by themselves at tables and try to encourage students to consider their school. But at the Jan. 19 Explore What’s in Store event at Mesa Convention Center, representatives will be organized by career field: health, technology, education and more. Students will pick up their career interest surveys and head to a table to learn about the different options available, Bareiss said.
For health, that may mean learning about what it takes to become a veterinary technician or a certified nurses’ assistant or a doctor. For education, it may mean talking to representatives from Arizona’s teaching colleges or community college programs.
“We want students to know if they’re interested in the health field there are options and different opportunities are going to require different classes, skills and commitments,” she said. “We’re trying to introduce the students early on to the idea of college completion,” and what that looks like.
The goal tied to the Gates Foundation grant is to change the way the school district, college and city think about college completion to better encourage the idea among young people. This is one step of that, Bareiss said.
Students in Mesa already take an interest survey — called the ACT Explore — as part of their eighth-grade education. Not only does it record students’ goals for the future, but it looks at how their current math, writing and reading skills match up to those goals. For instance, if a student wants to look at engineering, but only has plans to take two years of math, the output information will list that he or she needs more math classes.
“We want them to connect what they’re doing in high school to what they will do in school after high school — either technical school or college. The goal is not just getting kids to go, but getting kids to complete,” she said.
By bringing this information to the forefront for eighth grade students and parents, they can better plan the course load for high school. The district will even send the students a list of career and technical education classes offered in Mesa high schools in the fields they’re considering.
“In ninth grade, you’re making decisions on math classes to take,” said Joe O’Reilly, the Mesa district’s executive director of student achievement support. “What you do or don’t do in your early years of high school can affect what you do or can’t do later in life. You need to know what you want to do to get to your goal.”
Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune