Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: A Whole-School Redesign with Students at the Center

A Whole-School Redesign with Students at the Center

Barnstable Intermediate School, Hyannis, Massachusetts

Barnstable Intermediate School (BIS) is a grade 6–7 urban public school. Our student population of more than 700 is racially and economically diverse. BIS embarked on its journey to include a career exploratory experience as part of a larger whole-school redesign tasked with bringing rigorous, relevant, and engaged learning to all students while building on school-based, family, and community relationships. We obtained funding from ASA and MASS IDEAS to support this work.

BIS leverages monthly half days for students to begin their career exploratory experience. The goal of these half days is to lead students through a discovery phase of career exploration that supports them to identify their skills, passions, and talents, while also exposing them to available opportunities as they progress through their secondary education and beyond. Students engage with individual guest speakers to build upon work happening in the classrooms, explore a variety of local career opportunities, and participate in a whole-school Career Day.

A strong relationship was built between BIS and Barnstable High School (BHS) to ensure the continuity of career exploration from grades 6 through 12. High School Career Ambassadors were established to introduce 6th and 7th grade students to the high school pathways, internships, and other opportunities in their near future.

The results of this work were evident as 126 of the 358 6th grade students showed interest in taking part in a new 7th grade elective, Pathfinder, that was developed to provide a deeper dive into career exploration during the following school year. Additionally, through the work with the Career Ambassadors, the majority of 7th grade teachers reported that students had thoughtfully investigated and selected 8th grade courses with the 9 career pathways at BHS in mind.

BIS is continuing its work to bring a robust career exploratory experience to its students by expanding programming to implement the Pathfinder elective, providing week-long career exploratory experiences held monthly in small group advisories, and hosting weekly spotlights of community members who share their journeys to their current careers with BIS students. BIS’s vision for career explorations has grown over the last two years and its commitment to create rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experiences, including career exploration, has deepened as a result of the impact the programming has had on our students’ engagement and ownership of their learning.

Key Insights:

  • It was extremely important to share a clear message with families, students, and the community that career exploration at the middle school level is not having students select a path for their future; rather, career exploration in middle school provides students an opportunity to make their learning relevant as they explore connections to careers and, ultimately, may open doors to their future through exploring their skills, passions, and talents early on in their educational journeys.
  • Developing a whole-school career exploration experience takes time, focus, and community-wide effort. Time needs to be given to educators to help them understand the importance of the work, curate lessons, and build relationships with community members.
  • Lean on your staff to jump-start your community relationship building. We initially asked educators to contribute their local contacts to a list of potential partnerships we could build upon as a school. By using our educators’ established relationships, we were able to skip the cold call step of building local partnerships for our school.
  • Creating roles responsible for this work is key. Establishing a Career Exploration Liaison and subcommittee brought focus to our work and supported the development of lessons in order to create consistency during the early phases.

Visit the AMLE/ASA Career Exploration Resource Center for additional case studies, templates, research, and more.