Courses to give students an introduction to various careers, high school career curriculum

Starting in the fall of 2022, seventh graders at the Forest Lake Area Middle School will be the first students enrolled in three, quarter-length courses as a part of the school’s new two-year career pathway course plan.

“The background was to give kids in the middle level – seventh and eighth graders – an experience across the board that all of them would be able to say, ‘I really have an interest in a particular field,’” Forest Lake Area Middle School Principal Hayley Lang said.

The idea is to extend the high school’s career pathway system into the middle school, which has been a topic of interest for a few years.

“We also wanted to do an even better job than we had in the past of having our middle school program really align with that of our high school,” Director of Teaching and Learning J.P. Jacobson, who is also the former middle school principal, said about this plan’s overall objective.

This new course model for middle schoolers, which will require students to take a total of six pre-determined career pathway courses, is aimed to prepare them to choose a pathway they’d like to pursue at Forest Lake Area High School.

The three courses that all seventh graders will take are Adventures in Global Agriculture, Exploring Industrial Technology and Media Arts 1. Respectively, those three courses fall under the agriculture, food and natural resources; engineering, manufacturing and technology; and the arts, communication and information systems career paths offered at the high school.

The eighth grade courses “Are you a future CEO?”, “Be the Change” and “Healthy You and Beyond” will cover the remaining career pathway categories in business, management and administration; human services; and health science technology.

The goal of this new two-year program is to help students discover where their interests may be.

“We talked about … trying to create experiences for students earlier in their secondary education where they have the opportunity to see themselves in different careers,” Jacobson said.

Middle schoolers aren’t encouraged to choose their career paths that early, so each course is designed to be a single quarter and allow students to learn a rudimentary understanding of each career curriculum offered at the high school.

“One of the big things that we want to make sure of is that we’re giving kids an experience versus a mastering of things,” Lang said.

“We also made sure that our courses are courses that have a strong connection to the skills that students would need for their future,” Jacobson said, and offered an example of a students’ ability to think creatively as researchers, evaluators and creators.

The seventh graders in the fall of 2022 will take the next set of three courses as eighth graders.

Course development and roll out

Curriculum coordinators have worked with teacher teams to create these six new courses that make up this two-year program.

The curriculum teams connected the course objectives to the Minnesota and national education standards and the school district’s strategic plan’s mission, “Prepare and empower every student to thrive in and contribute to an ever-changing world.”

The connection of these courses to state and federal standards and the strategic plan is an important gauge for Jacobson, who trusts that the courses will be an asset to a middle schooler’s education.

“When a student takes a course, we know that it has been a valuable experience for them and a good use of their time in the classroom,” Jacobson said.

The two-year course plan originated during the strategic planning period more than a year ago, and the district went to work gathering multiple opinions on how these courses could function at the middle school. A “middle school design team” was created, made up of representatives of the middle school and high school staffs, as well as feedback from a student and a community focus group. Curriculum teams then started creating structured course outlines, learning outcomes, course content and long-term goals that took around 20 to 35 hours per course to put together, according to Jacobson.

“It takes time to roll things out in a way that’s perfected,” Jacobson said.

All six courses were unanimously approved, with board member Julie Corcoran absent, at the school board meeting on Thursday, Dec. 16.

Board members Jeff Peterson, Kate Luthner, Alex Keto, Rob Rapheal and Gail Theisen expressed their excitement for this two-year course system and about the opportunities for students to learn these materials before high school.

Lang said she is excited for the courses to roll out and is preparing materials to share with parents about the new system and courses.

There will be an informational session in January for parents of sixth graders to learn about the new courses, and middle school counselors will meet with sixth grade students to explain courses.

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