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A dentist, attorney and social entrepreneur walk into a school

A dentist, an attorney and a social entrepreneur walk into a school. No, it’s not the opening line of a joke. It’s just a few of the volunteers who visited Oak-Land Middle School as part of its first-ever career exploration event this past week.

Nearly 50 volunteers representing local businesses and organizations visited with eighth grade students over the course of two days to share information about their professional careers. The volunteers talked about their own school experiences, their interests and passions, and their journey in selecting a career. The list of speakers covered a variety of professions - a veterinarian, social worker, banker, reporter, several emergency responders, and even a fair trade retailer. The Stillwater Area Community Foundation sponsored the event and helped recruit the volunteers.

The Oak-Land career days helped kick-off the launch of the district’s new Pathways & Possibilities program. Officially coming to Stillwater Area High School in 2020-2021, elements of the program are intended to spread to both middle schools, and perhaps even elementary schools, into the future. Pathways & Possibilities is designed to help students understand their strengths, find their passions and consider what life might look like for them in the future. Students will be given a variety of opportunities throughout their educational career to better understand their career options, experience hands-on learning in a variety of areas and leave high school with marketable skills. 

“The key is not to give them too much all at once,” said Heather Goetz, a middle school counselor. “We sprinkle them with a bit of information, let it soak, and then sprinkle some more. That’s how we get them thinking about the future without feeling overwhelmed.”

In the coming weeks high school students will register for classes for next fall. As part of the pathways program they’ll have opportunities to select from elective courses organized into four areas - Arts & Communication, Business, Health Sciences & Human Services, and STEM & Environment. Each pathway will lead students through introductory courses all the way to advanced-level courses that could earn them college credit or an industry certification. Students may also have opportunities to connect with professionals in the community through job shadowing, mentorships, internships, extra-curricular activities and more. 

“This will help students reflect on their interests, see how those things relate to potential careers, and understand what advantages/disadvantages go along with their choices,” said Bob Manning, the high school’s pathways coordinator. “We believe this will give students a renewed sense of purpose, will help them see the relevance of school work, and make them more successful.” 

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