Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: Using Family and Community Engagement to Drive Program Success

Using Family and Community

STEM Middle Academy, Springfield, Massachusetts

STEM Middle Academy is a diverse grade 6–8 school located in a low socioeconomic area. Our career exploration program has greatly improved student engagement and interest in a variety of careers, and increased students’ access to phenomenon-driven activities in science and technology. We also have science inclusion programs for students with disabilities and special needs, allowing our program to reach almost our entire student population. Planning and implementation is a collaboration between the science department, administration, and teachers willing to support cross-curricular events.

Prior to this program, career exploration was done in a reading and research manner with few opportunities for students to experience these fields. Our new career exploration initiative began with a professionality-centered program to support career skills in all types of trades, fields, and occupations. Since its inception, we have evolved greatly. Our focus has moved to encouraging all students, especially girls and students of color, to explore career fields that they may not have considered. We have been able to spark important discussions on the kinds of barriers students may face in entering fields that traditionally lack diversity.

Importantly, family and community engagement continues to increase with each new phase of this program. Parents are engaged as they see projects and prototypes being brought home. As they explore, students are especially attracted to professional roles held by students’ friends and family members, thereby establishing a sense of community relevance to career opportunities within the city. Families are able to assist in an 8th grade career research project because many students chose careers with which their families are familiar. Parent engagement became more difficult due to COVID and remote learning. We pivoted to virtual field trips to allow students to meet experts and engage with community members from home:

  • Eighth grade students spent time with the VP of Visual Effects at Marvel Studios, and members of her VFX design team. She took them on a virtual field trip, answered student questions about her career path, and connected student interests in science, art, and video games to career paths in computer programming, VFX architecture, and design.
  • Seventh grade students met with our local city planning department. Our speaker described her job as a city planner and the educational journey she had to complete to reach the position she holds today. Students were inspired to know that there is more than one path they can follow to find a role that makes a difference in their local community.
  • Sixth grade students took a virtual field trip with NASA. The speaker explained life as a lunar scientist, which connected to the classroom where students were simultaneously learning about the phases of the moon.

To reach our current level of family engagement took a great deal of tenacity and a variety of communication methods that included:

  • Calling families
  • Posting notifications and messages on our school platform
  • Mailing letter to families
  • Social media advertisements

Because of these efforts, we see family and community engagement only increasing as the program continues.

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