When I graduated high school, my mother gave me the gift of a hand-stitched cross-stitch sampler. It is framed in a simple wooden frame and highlights my school colors. Around the outside are the lyrics of my high school’s alma mater; the left-hand corner includes my name, school, and the date of my graduation ceremony; in the right corner, there is a graduation cap with a golden tassel; and, carefully stitched into the center top under “Congratulations Graduate” are Shakespeare’s words, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
The quotation comes from Shakespeare’s masterful tragedy, Hamlet. Those specific words, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be,” are delivered by Ophelia, the central female character in the play (during Act IV, scene 5), and spoken when she is suffering great despair. The inspirational words, echoed by so many, come from a character experiencing great psychological turmoil. So, it is slightly ironic to use those words to mark a milestone, such as graduation, when the event should also be associated with feelings of accomplishment and hope. Yet, the words accurately depict and resonate with feelings of uncomfortable uncertainty that many graduates struggle with while experiencing the pomp and circumstance of graduation.
Graduation is undoubtedly a time of hope and excitement; still, let us not fully push those feelings of uncertainty and questions of ‘What now?’ and ‘What’s next?’ away. Let’s engage students to uncover their pathway earlier, so the milestone event is met with excitement and confidence for the path they’ve set out on.
Perhaps we ask our learners to think about what they “may be” earlier. Career-connected learning has the potential to lighten the load off our students’ shoulders. Integrated career-connected learning can allow high-school graduates to experience more excitement and anticipation knowing that they have a career pathway thought out and that they have already taken steps along that path. We should start in middle and high school because this way our students will have the necessary time to realize the benefits. One such benefit is that career exploration in middle and high school can lead to more students participating in early college credit programs, which in turn can help students and their families incur less college student loan debt.
Introduce career-connected learning this summer to help students explore, research, and begin to prepare for future careers. We also enhance learning by infusing career exploration into math, science, reading/writing, and history. This way we can re-engage learners and spark hope and excitement in place of typically dreaded summer remediation.
More specifically, the Pathway2Careers Math Curriculum succeeds in integrating career readiness into Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. Our courses contain over 150 lessons in each core content area, and the program introduces students to more than 650 real-world occupations. The P2C Summer Learning Solution including its “Summer Pacing Guide” can significantly support student learning and can be implemented within tight budgets and timeframes. This math curriculum, with a career-focused twist, is something teachers will enjoy teaching. The career-connected aspect may also be helpful for novice teachers or educators who typically teach a different subject matter.
By motivating students to think critically about career readiness this summer, we can address summer learning loss, harness the incentive associated with purpose in learning, and nudge learners in the right direction. Summer support can help students to re-engage. It may provide students with the confidence to sign up for that early college high school certification program or advanced coursework so that they can start earning credits and taking steps on their career pathway.