Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: Leveraging Community Connections Through a Unified Approach

Leveraging Community Connections Through a Unified Approach

KIPP Massachusetts, Boston and Lynn, Massachusetts

KIPP Massachusetts encompasses five schools across two districts in Boston and Lynn and has been educating students for over 15 years. Our mission is that together, with families and communities, we create joyful, academically excellent schools that prepare students with the skills and confidence to pursue the paths they choose—college, career, and beyond—so they can lead fulfilling lives and build a more just world. Part of fulfilling our mission means providing impactful career learning experiences. We have been using the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum over the past four years, which provides rich STEM learning experiences for our middle school students.

While this programming has been impactful, we knew we could take it further by using it to connect students to related STEM careers. High school Science Teacher Allen Wang said it best: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Through conversations with curriculum specialists, science teachers, and middle and high school leaders, we developed a plan to expose our middle school students to more meaningful career connections.

Career fairs and industry talks are helpful, but they sometimes fail to create an authentic connection between students and careers. We felt that our PLTW projects provided an excellent opportunity to foster these connections. We began inviting engineers, programmers, designers, and doctors to provide feedback to our students on their projects.

We found that it can be overwhelming for teachers to have to manage the connections and coordination with outside partners, so we try to take care of that at the regional level. For context, we have two regional team members dedicated to our science and STEM curriculum and teacher support across our five schools. One team member supports our K–4th grade teachers and students, and one team member supports 5th–12th grade teachers and students. These regional team members support the external side of making career connections. After our team members find volunteers through inquiries to local industry, they also maintain an unofficial database of individuals who have participated. We find that many of these volunteers love to come back again and again. It also helps to have teachers communicate to the volunteers beforehand (via email, phone call, or even a pre-recorded video) to explain the project and student expectations. Volunteers feel more prepared to engage meaningfully with students.

We have found that these interactions with industry professionals are more impactful, because rather than simply “hearing about” a career, students get to work with an industry expert directly on an actual project. We have set the ambitious goal that every year, every single student in our middle schools will present a STEM project to an industry expert. Students have already found these interactions valuable. “I always assumed an engineer is someone who works on cars!” said one 8th grade student after working with a General Electric (GE) engineer on a design project. Our students continue to show enthusiasm for project-based learning that leads to feedback and conversations with industry professionals. We are excited to continue this program and look forward to deepening our partnerships once students return to the building next school year!

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