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Program to make high schoolers better aware of skills may boost graduation rates, job potential

Which would you rather see coming out of our public high schools?

A) Students who groan and shrug when asked what they plan to do after high school because they do not know.

B) Students who make education and career choices with a better understanding of themselves after taking a fun series of self-assessment tests to gauge their skills, talents and personality traits.

The answer clearly is B. And a business group with close ties to Pinellas County public schools wants to help more students gain a stronger grasp on career options that might best fit their interests.

The Pinellas Education Foundation will deliver a program dubbed Career Connections that tours high schools via a semitrailer truck filled with friendly tests students can tap to learn more about themselves. The program gets a tryout (though the semi will come later) this fall.

Career Connections (its name will change) is part of the same Gus A. Stavros Institute that introduces fifth-graders to free markets through its Enterprise Village and middle schoolers to money matters via Finance Park.

Once high schoolers take some self-guided tests to determine what they are good at and how they like to work (are you a people person? prefer to work alone?), the program will create a portrait of each student's strengths. They will be matched with types of jobs that might suit them and the kinds of education required to do such work.

"We hope to make this exciting so kids can say, 'Aha! I am good at something,' " says Dick Austin, a former Pinellas Education Foundation chairman and Franklin Templeton executive who heads this project.

Is this program reinventing the wheel? Doesn't career planning for high schoolers already exist? Well, Pinellas schools now offer a program called Choices Planner to help students assess their skills.

There's just one problem. Few students use it. "It's boring," says Terry Boehm, Pinellas Education Foundation president. The new program is being assembled with lots of input from students — more than 200 have been interviewed — to better assure it holds a student's attention.

So, is this all for the greater good of public school kids?

Boehm, Austin and foundation chairman Craig Sher (executive chairman of Sembler Co.) all say the public school system deserves more credit than it gets.

But this trio also sees a perilous gap between traditional — dare I say narrow — high school education and the types of skills businesses will demand from young workers.

The trio also sees too many young people unaware of (or put off by) alternative training, including technical schools that can provide relevant skills and access to decent-paying jobs.

Nobody's happy with our tragically low high school graduation rates, and the woes of so many college students who never make it past their freshman year.

A program that boosts a high school student's awareness of what he or she likes and is good at can't possibly hurt.

"Educators talk of the goal to make kids lifelong learners," Boehm says. "That is fine. But if we do not also make them lifelong earners, then we're missing a big part of what education is all about."

In a tough economy, amid intensifying global competition, who can argue with that?

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Program to make high schoolers better aware of skills may boost graduation rates, job potential 05/25/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 25, 2011 11:11pm]

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