Students use tech to drive career exploration

Kids drive own learning with input on WIN Learning’s Career Exploration Mobile App development

career-techAs the school year ends, some students in low-income rural areas may feel that their time in class hasn’t brought them any closer to going to college or getting beyond a minimum wage job.

However, students in north central and south central Kentucky are plotting their career paths and even finding the grants, scholarships and other funds to pursue their paths, thanks to the efforts and initiatives of the kid-FRIENDLy (Kids-Focused, Responsible, Imaginative, Engaged, Determined to Learn) Project (, a program funded in 2012 by the largest Race To The Top-District (RTTT-D) grant awarded.

The kid-FRIENDLy Project focuses on student empowerment, supporting students’ building daily habits of goal setting, teamwork, critical thinking, communication, creativity and problem solving, making them leaders of their own learning. The program also promotes personalized learning strategies, including online and off-campus work environments, flipped classrooms, student teaming, and emphasis on students’ learning needs, preferences and responsibility.

Next page: The program’s impact

“When I started high school, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation,” used to be a common refrain among students in the area, but now many are taking action for their future career paths while still in high school. They are deciding on professional fields such as civil engineering or psychology and researching which colleges have the courses best suited for helping them realize their goals. Individuals interested in positions in the agricultural field have joined organizations like FFA and 4H in addition to deciding on postsecondary education options.

The RTTT-D grant has made it even easier for students to consider and prepare for their future career paths by funding the development of a related WIN Learning Career Exploration and Planning mobile app for kid-FRIENDLy.

The WIN Atlas app helps students identify potential career interests and gain insight into the relationship between their education and career pathways. It includes an Interest and Work Profiler feature that aids in the development of an individualized learning plan by helping students choose a career pathway that matches their interests, priorities and work values.

“It’s about student empowerment,” said Dr. Teresa Chasteen, CEO and president of WIN Learning. “They’re digital natives, tech is welded to their palm, so they get to use the app the way they want. They have a voice and ownership in the development of their path.”

“Research shows that students who see the relevance of their curriculum to their own goals and are studying things they have chosen to learn are more likely to have a good reason to come regularly to school and to be willing to put attention and effort into their schoolwork,” said Joseph Goins, WIN Learning’s executive vice president.

Managed by two education service agencies, the Green River Regional Education Consortium (GRREC), and the Ohio Valley Education Consortium (OVEC), the kid-FRIENDLy Project works with 111 schools in 22 districts. The districts use WIN Learning’s Career Readiness System to assist students who need extra support in reading and math. Additionally, educators use myStrategic Compass to help students explore career options. “This tool is very useful for students to take a look at their strengths, examine career options in Kentucky versus those outside of Kentucky and make a more informed choice about their career path,” said Sandra Baker, the associate executive director of learning support services for GRREC.

“Our students don’t have many models of careers,” said Dennis Horn, the Race to the Top program manager for OVEC. “There are very few examples in many rural communities, few opportunities for job shadowing or internships, and there is a general mindset among parents and students that ‘we can’t afford or attain it, so why bother.’ Students often have a hard time seeing a clear path to meaningful postsecondary experiences that will lead to a good life, so WIN Learning and the work of the kid-FRIENDLy program fills a deep need.”

Educators themselves receive support through the kid-FRIENDLy’s Leaders Developing Leadership component, which provides guidance to principals in leading change, improving teacher performance and making data-based decisions. The program’s Communities of Practice component supports teacher leaders as they learn about personalization and innovation in the classroom. The project also includes a competency-based teaching component that supports schools as they shift from focusing on course completion to mastery of standards so that students will be able to move fluidly from standard to standard rather than grade to grade.

One of the most popular components of the WIN program among educators and students is WIN Learning’s soft skills curriculum. The schools use WIN Learning’s SOFT SKILLS curriculum in different ways. For example, one school requires the students to pass the soft skills test before being eligible for job shadowing. Others use the SOFT SKILLS curriculum during Life 101 classes or to assist students with passing industry certification assessments. According to the teachers, “Soft skills are very important, especially in everyday life, and it’s funny how students at this age, they don’t have a lot of knowledge of soft skills. Kids today don’t know how to interview, they don’t know how to ask questions.” Students have also attested to the value of the soft skills curriculum with statements such as “There are many communication and listening skills that it taught me that I didn’t have any clue about before.”

“This partnership gives educators the tools to help build student awareness around their future career options and the relationship to their current classroom learning,” concluded Chasteen. “It’s exciting to be part of something so transformative –– where more and more students will graduate with a vision for their future and a plan to get there.”

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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