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Dr. Carrie Howe, a veterinarian with Rivertown Animal Hospital, showed students videos of surgeries she’s performed on cats and dogs. (Submitted photo)

When did you first think about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Teachers and staff at Oak-Land Middle School are piloting a program that could help all students in the Stillwater Area School District start to think about post-high school education and career plan before entering high school.

Starting in the fall of 2020, the Stillwater Area High School will implement a new way of organizing electives that could help students determine what kinds of careers they may be interested in. This program, called Pathways, outlines four sectors of elective classes to help explore career options and prepare students for requirements they may need to pursue those careers. Currently, high school staff have developed four pathways; Arts and Communication, Business, Health & Human Services and Industry & Technology.

To support the first group of students that will use the new program throughout their high school experience, the Stillwater Area Community Foundation and the Stillwater Schools sponsored a career exploration day targeted to eighth graders at Oak-Land Middle School on Jan. 22-23. Set up like a mini-career conference, the two-day event included keynote speakers and around 40 members of the local business community to speak with students about their careers and the educational path that brought them to their current career. Guest speakers represented a variety of fields, including: medical & healthcare, finance & business, engineering & the sciences, sales & customer service, accounting & legal, public & civil service, construction & the trades, info-technology & the arts.

Heather Goetz is a school counselor at Oak-Land Middle School and was one of the organizers of the event.

“Some kids know what they want to be; we ask kids to raise their hand if they know what they are going to be and make a fist - keep that thought,” Goetz said. “How many of you have no idea, keep your hand open. The purpose of today is to add idea to what you think you want to do or add to ideas to that open hand so you can have some ideas of what you want to do.”

As a school counselor, getting students to think about future careers in middle school may be tough for some students and may be easier for others.

“For some kids, they may not be hearing about many potential jobs or skills out there, I know my kids know all about what the job of being a school counselor is,” Goetz said. “This opportunity is a way to get kids to hear about all kinds of different jobs that are available.”

At previous events when the Pathways program was presented to community and business leaders, many asked what the school district is doing to present careers in the trades or other careers that may not require a four-year degree. Goetz said that those options are included in career talks.

“As we were reaching out for volunteers to speak to our students, I was overwhelmed by the community support,” Goetz said. “A program like this would not happen without the support of the community.”

Next week, school counselors from Stillwater Area High School will come to the district’s middle schools to help eighth graders sign up for freshman classes for Fall 2020.

Contact Alicia Lebens at

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