Eighth-Grade CEC Tours Help Facilitate Career Planning

Eighth-Grade CEC Tours Help Facilitate Career Planning

CTE Director Michelle Wood is finding new ways to make sure students graduate with a specific plan


Michelle Wood

Michelle Wood

One of the biggest events on Michelle Wood’s calendar every year is introducing 1,000 WFISD eighth-graders to the Career Education Center and its 26 programs – yes, every single student to every single program. Her philosophy: Students don’t know what they don’t know, so they need to see everything. Her goal: Help them find something they never knew they always wanted. And by the time they get to their senior year, she wants something else: She wants each one to have formulated a specific plan for the day after graduation. This year, she wants proof of that plan and is asking for it in a specific way.

We talked to Mrs. Wood to find out what’s new at the Career Education Center in its second year of operation and how the Career and Technical Education field is evolving.


Q: When did eighth-graders tour the CEC this year?

A: During the week of Nov. 30, we had all the students come and tour. Students spent about seven minutes learning about each program, then rotated to the next program – 25 rotations. Oftentimes they were introduced to the program by the teacher or by students enrolled in the program who explained what they do and answered students’ questions. We kept groups small – about 16 per group. They are here all day, with Chartwells catering lunch at a food truck outside.

Q: Was this the first visit to the CEC for many students?

A: Yes, for almost all of them. They commented on how much they didn’t know we had. Eighth-grade teachers also went through the tours and now have a better grasp of what’s here.

Q: You insisted that all kids see all programs. Why?

A: We didn’t want them to simply choose five programs they thought they were interested in. You don’t know what you don’t know. Many kids commented on things they never knew they might like. We had girls walk out of the welding lab and say, “I really liked the welding.” Or, “Electrical sounded cool to me.” We had 400 Barwise students on Tuesday, 400 McNiel students on Wednesday and 200 Kirby kids on Thursday – a lot of sweet babies.

Q: How big is CEC enrollment this year? Last year, we had 1,200 students in 26 pathways.

A: This year we have a little more than 1,300 students coming to the CEC every day.

Q: What comes after the tours?

A: We schedule Parent Endorsement Meetings for eighth-grade parents. Kids learned about endorsements; now parents learned about endorsements – all before they pick a schedule.

They choose their endorsement for ninth-grade but they don’t pick the specifics until after their freshman year.


Q: In what programs do you see the most interest?

A: It really is all over the place. Health care is always huge, and always will be, because the demand is huge. Before Thanksgiving, there seem to be a ton of students wanting to be doctors and a ton wanting to be lawyers. After touring the CEC and hearing talk about things like plumbing and electricity, we see a switch: Students begin talking about interior and graphic design, or saying things like, “Maybe I do want to be a teacher.”


Q: It got the discussion going…

A: It’s really about stimulating the conversation. They say, “Hey, I didn’t realize they had a class for that.” Or “I might like that.” Many kids at this age still think they will be professional athletes or play video games for a living. We try to break it to them gently – probably that’s not going to happen. We want to have some reality checks. We ask, “What’s your back-up plan? We want you to find something you can make a living at.”


Q: How are things different this year at the CEC?

A: We’ve grown by about 200 students from last year to this year. We’ve also honed our pathways. We added a new level this year and will add another level next year.

The eighth-grade class is huge this year.


Q: What are the new goals for the CEC?

A: In the beginning, we wanted to have 500 students here in the morning and 500 here in the afternoon – maximum. We thought it would take us four years to get there. Wrong. We had 1,200 that very first year, and we’re up to 1,300 daily now.

Our goals have shifted. I’m focused now on preparing kids for life after high school. Before, it was to get kids in career pathways. We still want to do that, but now I’m focusing on getting every senior ready for his or her next step. That’s what we’re shooting for, and it takes a while.

For example, a kid says, “I’m going to join the military.” So we ask, “Have you met with the recruiter? Have you taken the ASVAB?” The counselors are also asking these questions at the home campuses.

My project for spring semester is to give each senior a card where they can declare their plan and its specifics and then post it on my office’s glass wall. My goal is for every senior to have something: “I’ve been hired by Tranter.” “I’ve been accepted to Vernon College.” Then post it. Then we can hound the ones who are still on the fence about their plans. We can ask, “Why is your card still sitting there?” “You’re going to Vernon College? Have you applied? Have you taken your SAT or ACT? No? Well, let’s get you signed up….”

This will allow us to recognize all our kids for what they’re doing – not just the athletes and not just the star valedictorians or salutatorians. Even if you’re joining the work force: That’s awesome! You got a job in the field you’re interested in? That’s phenomenal! I want to celebrate the 80 percent of students who make those kinds of plans. We have so many resources for the bottom 10 percent and so much celebration for the top 10 percent; now let’s celebrate the other 80 percent.

Q: So this is the job of the counselors…and you?

A: Counselors are doing it, but I think it takes extra people to help. CEC Assistant Principal Jennifer Spurgers and I are working on it together. It takes a village. We have 400 seniors. They all need extra mamas. We all want to be reminding kids, “What step can you do next?”

Teachers have to help, too. They know their kids. They know their ambitions. We’ll start by asking teachers to bring in their seniors and instruct them to fill out their cards.

We started this last year, but it’s hard to track. I’m hoping the visual incentive of posting their plans on our wall will enlist some peer pressure and make it work. My goal is to be unable to see out these windows. Everyone’s success looks different. We should celebrate success, whatever it looks like.

Q: You have an eighth-grade daughter who toured with the McNiel group. You’re right in the middle of this issue in your own family.

A: As a parent, I can relate. I understand feeling like there’s a lack of information. Or the scariness of it all. A lot of parents fear we’re trying to make a child decide right now – as an eighth grader – what they’re going to do for a lifetime.

Here’s how I explain it to eighth-graders: I ask, “Have you ever wanted to play a sport but you weren’t old enough? Or did you ever have to wait six months for the vacation you always wanted? Or you wanted to be in a club, but you couldn’t join until the spring? You waited and waited for these things and built it up in your mind. Finally, when you got to do it, you didn’t like it. It wasn’t as cool as you thought. Careers are sometimes like that. You think it’s going to be so amazing. You go all through high school or college thinking about it and looking forward to it…but when you actually begin to work in the field, it may not be as cool as you thought it would be.” So we would rather let students try something in high school and see if it’s the path they’re interested in – or even to find out that it doesn’t interest them at all.

It’s not about making a final decision. It’s about trying something while you’re still in the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to move away, change your major, spend a billion dollars, or sign a lease for an apartment. You can stay at home, save your money and take some classes in a high school career pathway and just try something new.

It’s so cute to hear students who are pursuing the education pathway (to be a teacher) – a pathway you would think they’re generally familiar with after sitting in classes for so many years – say things like, “You mean I have to plan 45 minutes of content every day? I have to teach the whole time? Every day—that’s a lot of work.” The details of an actual career – even one you think you’re familiar with -- can surprise you.


Q: What is your goal for all of us as we watch students make their choices?

A: We want staff and teachers to encourage kids to try things. We want them to start with the end in mind. Ask them: “What do you think you really want to do?” Then, let’s be on the path to do that. They run out of options if they don’t plan ahead. The big thing now is four-year planning so they don’t get stuck later on.

We still fight a bit of stigmatism with career-oriented courses, that attitude that “those courses are for those kids; that’s not for you.” The GPA race is still alive and kicking, and parents who had an older child who excelled that way tend to continue with that mentality.

But times are changing. We’re establishing huge community partnerships that are making opportunities available like never before to CTE students. We had one parent who didn’t want a child to take a principles class for architecture “because that’s not for smart kids like you.” But now the child sees all the architecture students are doing, and that we’ve partnered with a local association that could provide internships and jobs, and now the parent wants the child to take the course. But the student never took the principles course. So instead of enrolling him in the CTE classes that will give him a head start and scholarship opportunities, I have to tell the parents, “They won’t be able to go all the way through the program because they’re starting late. They’ll have to start with the principles class and go up from there.”

The Principles course for each program is the gateway for everything else. We want everyone in an endorsement on the same playing field, with the same knowledge. Some students resist enrolling in that principles course. But it’s the necessary first step.

For example, if you want to play varsity football, and you’re in freshman level football but you don’t want to play on the freshman team, and you don’t want to practice, and you think everything the coach wants you to do is dumb, will you ever play varsity football? No. Principles classes are like that. You have to take that first step before you do move on to the cooler classes.

Kids would never think, “I’m going to play varsity, but I would never do what they say.” Yet for some reason they think in academics they should be able to do that—just skip the foundational course yet take the higher-up ones.

We also want students to know that with proper planning, they can do both: They can pursue their academics but also participate in a CTE pathway.

That’s all we want our kids to do: Just try. We know that the principles classes are not for everyone. For example, a student can earn an arts endorsement by participating in band and orchestra and they will never need to come to the CEC. They can do all the things they love, and we don’t discourage that.

But, if they love the arts and think they might want to be a band teacher someday, why not take some education courses and follow the education endorsement? If they have room in their schedule for that career path, why not do both? Take some courses and see if that’s really what you want to do. Sometimes you have to choose. But many times you can juggle and make it work. We have some very talented kids, and they have a lot of options now.