Supporting the College and Career Development of Our Students

I am excited to be an educator in a state that so strongly supports initiatives for college and career readiness. In Tennessee, we have made these initiatives a priority by identifying them in our strategic plan under the heading “High School and Bridge to Postsecondary.” One might not guess that I would have much background information in the area of career guidance as an elementary teacher, but that thinking would be quite false. We address college and career readiness in the early grades and with more innovation than in years past to get students prepared for the many decisions they will face throughout their academic careers.

My mother is a retired Family and Consumer Sciences (the class formerly known as Home Economics) teacher, so naturally, I grew up in a family that strongly supports career and technical education (CTE). The possibilities are endless for students to get career experience while interacting with the latest technology and professionals in their field of interest. This experience helps students decide if a profession is a good fit for them. My former high school was visited by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a few years ago, so she could tour the top of the line programs available to students on the CTE pathway. We have mechatronics, health professional, and automotive technology classes available to students. Many receive offers for internships with major companies immediately after graduating high school.

Dual enrollment classes are growing in popularity here, too. I live in a college town and our high school students are fortunate to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to earn college credit and get a taste of college-level work before they enroll. This may help alleviate the need for remedial classes in college, which is critical because students who require remedial courses are less likely to receive their degree and often incur more debt along the way.

For about five years now I have mentored high school seniors through the state initiative known as Tennessee Promise. It is a scholarship program that covers two years of postsecondary education or training and it is incredible. I mentor many students who are first-generation college students. Volunteers from the local community are paired with groups of students at each high school. Since our community hosts a large automobile manufacturing company, many students move straight from a nearby Tennessee Career and Technical Institute (TCAT) into a great paying career they love through the Tennessee Promise initiative.

My school system hosts meetings for parents to learn more about what they can do to help their children, including elementary students, prepare for a career. These events feature a panel of industry partners, school district leaders, and representatives from our local Chamber of Commerce. The panel share information with parents about career exploration and preparation programs available in our schools and through local companies. As far as thinking about future career preparations goes, we believe the sooner the better! In kindergarten, we don’t expect students to know what they want to be when you grow up; however, it is never too early to recognize their strengths, know the options, and grow their potential.

As an adjunct college professor, I’ve witnessed the difference it makes when students have had adequate preparation for postsecondary education demands. Individuals who receive some form of training or education after high school typically enjoy higher income earnings, experience lower incarceration rates, and better health, among other positive life attributes. Providing career-driven experiences in high school increase the likelihood that students will seek postsecondary education and training options and successfully be on a career pathway. The benefits are clear- so get in gear and support college and career development in your state and community, too!

Dr. Rachel Peay Cornett is an Academic Interventionist at Brown’s Chapel Elementary.  Here she teaches rising readers and future mathematicians in grades K-5.  Rachel had been teaching for 13 years, previously having taught 1st grade. Dr. Cornett also teaches intervention pedagogy to preservice educators at a local university. She recently earned her educational leadership endorsement. She serves on the Tennessee Department of Education’s Early Literacy Council and has helped create statewide professional development about higher academic standards for students. Rachel is president of her local recycling board and in her free time, she likes to giggle with her infant son.