As one district proves, you don’t have to wait until high school to expose students to their futures

college-careerAsk a third grader what she wants to be when she grows up and she might say “a doctor.” Adults know that anyone with a doctorate is technically a doctor, but for a young mind their idea of what a doctor is or does is narrow. It is only through repeated exposure to careers that students begin to expand those definitions and begin to think about their futures. At the Kankakee School District in Illinois, where I graduated from and now serve as superintendent, it’s a process that begins as early as preschool.

Research shows that the earlier and more often you talk with young children about careers, the more students will envision themselves going to college and working in those fields. Without the consistent conversations, a student may never pursue secondary education or have a solid career at all.

From the time a student walks through the door of a school in Kankakee School District to the time they walk across stage to receive their high school diplomas, they are constantly transitioning to their next stage of life.

At Kankakee, the magnet and gifted-student programs traditionally got most of the district’s focus, creating a significant achievement gap for students on the general education track, which was filled with watered-down expectations, creating a slippery slope that pulled the entire district down. At one point, half of students in grades two through nine failed to meet local assessment expectations. The way our community and school is structured, with high-achieving magnet programs, there is really no excuse for us to be a low-performing district.

Something drastic had to be done to level the playing field, and college and career readiness looked like the best way to do it.

Next page: PBL meets college and career readiness