Career prep starts in middle school

High school student Andrew Castillo, left, and architect Marco Marraccini, met when Andrew was a seventh-grade intern. Photo: Emile Wamsteker, Education Week

Career prep programs are starting in middle school, reports Education Week.

“Although young people physically drop out in high school, they mentally disengage in middle school. That’s where we lose them,” said Ayeloa Fortune, who directs United Way’s Middle Grade Success Challenge in Alexandria, Virginia.

In Pittsburgh, United Way funded a program that connects sixth graders with adults who introduce them to career options.

Middle schools are increasingly looking for ways to expose students to careers so they understand the relevance of what they are learning and stay on track. The hope is that with a goal in mind, they will be inspired to take rigorous classes, be engaged in learning, and increase the likelihood that they will be prepared for college.

In seventh grade, a nonprofit called Spark paired Andrew X. Castillo with an architect at a Los Angeles firm. A rising senior, the 16-year-old is applying to selective colleges to study architecture. He hopes to be the first in his family to complete college.

“[My mentor] helped me focus more on the future and what my next step should be,” says Castillo.

Career-focused charter schools could “alternative pathways for getting most kids not only through high school, but also through to some form of postsecondary credential with value in the labor market,” writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus. He calls for designing schools that combine the strengths of career academies and early college high schools.

Two-thirds of young people will not earn a bachelor’s degree, writes Schwartz. The college graduation rate is much lower for students from low-income families.

‘Please sir, can I read some more’

As an eight-year-old in foster care, Kalimah Priforce read all the books in his  group home, some of them twice. Told it was “impossible” to get more books, he went on a hunger strike, he writes in “Please sir, can I read some more” on The Good Men Project.  Inspired by Peter Pan, Encyclopedia Brown, Huckleberry Finn, The Little Prince and Pippi Longstocking, he got more books and the right to visit a local library.

Reading exposed him to a wider world.

Thanks to Twain, Barrie, Dickens, Caroll, and so many more,  books gave my earliest dreams the push they needed to make the incredible journey from the confines of a Brooklyn group home to the learning labs of Silicon Valley — where I currently run an edtech startup. My life’s work is about giving every learning miracle its push.

A “hackademic,” Priforce started Qykno to develop career-exploration software.