- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) - Jefferson High School freshmen participated in a unique College & Career Academy event earlier this month when they got the chance to learn more about the school’s 22 academic pathways from dozens of experts: upperclassmen at Jefferson.

Freshmen typically explore college and career interests at booths run by area professionals during the annual Alignment Rockford Academy Expo. But Pick My Pathway lets freshmen hone in on an academic pathway by picking the brains of students who traveled the same path one to three years ago. Upperclassmen are able to talk about what the classes are like, what the teachers are like, what they like and what don’t like about a certain course of study.

Freshmen are preparing to join one of four college and career academies, and selecting one of a handful of pathways within each academy. Their choices determine the kind of classes they will take for the next three years.

Academies are similar to colleges at universities; pathways are akin to majors. One of the main goals of the College & Career Academy model is to help students get a better idea of the type of career they want and prepare them for whatever additional education they will need to land jobs in their field of choice.

Freshman Brian Angel took a turn at a flight simulator. He enjoyed it but thinks he’s more interested in architecture. That’s in the Engineering, Manufacturing, Industrial and Trades Technology academy.

“I like to do things that are hands-on,” he said. “What they do with 3-D printer looks so cool.”

Senior Kadie Long enjoyed talking with younger students about her interest in foreign languages: “You get to tell them what the teachers are like and what you really do in the classes.”

This is Jefferson’s fourth year of hosting the essentially student-run Pick My Pathway. It was teacher-run the first year, Jefferson’s College & Career Academy coach Judy Gustafson explained. Feedback helped school leaders see the wisdom in letting students take the lead.

“When surveyed, our freshmen who came through the event said ‘What we really liked about the event was the opportunity to talk to the kids actually in the pathway we’re considering to find out the real story, the real answers of what that pathway is like’.”

Pathways run the gamut, from accounting and engineering to public safety and health sciences. Guilford High School has a similar, albeit more informal, event during lunch periods; freshmen can participate if they choose. At East and Auburn, pathway presentations are conducted by counselors and academy coaches. At Jefferson, all freshmen spend an hour at the mini-expo in the school’s library.

Jefferson’s model helps students make better choices.

“After our first year of academies at Jefferson, we saw a pretty big swing from what kids were saying they were picking as their pathway and the classes they signed up for,” said Dave Carson, the Rockford School District’s executive director of college and career readiness. “We realized that meant there was a gap between what students were saying they wanted as a career and the kind of classes they wanted to take.

“Pick My Pathway is a good way for us to create that awareness of what it really means to be part of a particular academy and pathway.”

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Source: Rockford Register Star, https://bit.ly/1ZoeLOc

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, https://www.rrstar.com

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