Career Exploration in the Middle Grades Case Study: A Whole-School Approach Embedded in the Local Community

A Whole School Approach

Uxbridge High School, Uxbridge, Massachusetts

Uxbridge High School (UHS) is a grade 8–12 comprehensive high school of approximately 600 students located in central Massachusetts. The centerpiece of the community is a new building that includes several multipurpose areas and lab spaces ideal for authentic and applied learning. Eighth grade was brought to the UHS campus in 2018, thereby expanding these students’ access to our robust elective program.

This elective program enables students to graduate from Uxbridge High School with access to industry-recognized credentials and technical training, advanced academic coursework, and a guided academic pathway that supports postsecondary decision-making. The school revamped its counseling program to align with a five-year model that enables students to make purposeful decisions about their futures, and students in 8th grade participate in an exploratory model that provides exposure to all of UHS’ pathways. As of spring 2021, the following pathways have been approved:

  • Media/Information Science
  • Biomedical Science
  • Manufacturing/Engineering
  • Business, Finance, and Logistics [planned]

Several factors drove the development of these pathways. Primarily, the number of UHS students that had historically applied to the local vocational technical high school far exceeded the number of accepted students. Additionally, for approximately 20 percent of graduates, plans for postsecondary experiences included either a two-year/technical program or immediate employment. By partnering with local industry, we were able to align the programs we developed with local economic needs. The school administration and school council collaborate with the local Chamber of Commerce, the Central Massachusetts Workforce Investment Board (MassHire), and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to merge community supply and demand with schools.

Because 8th grade is part of the UHS community, the skills—both technical and essential/soft—are consistent and evaluated through the lens of postsecondary outcomes. Using grant funds from the Commonwealth, Uxbridge offers students access to industry-standard equipment. Students are trained on CNC routers, laser engravers, unmanned aircraft (drones), anatomy tables, and 3D printing.

Moving forward, UHS continues to take steps to minimize attrition. In the early days, 8th grade students could enroll in courses without prerequisite knowledge. The implementation of career pathways has helped drive better academic outcomes, particularly as students examine the connection between their interests, general course of study, and selected pathway. Similarly, families feel better prepared to support students in the college and career decision-making process. Similarly, with students starting earlier the decision-making process for families around interests and credentials has supported a better and more thorough analysis of college and career readiness. In the long-term, students will gain a more comprehensive familiarity with postsecondary and career pathways, which will, in turn, drive improved access, decision-making, and success.

Key factors to our success have included:

  • Examining the nexus between the school and local economic trends to both identify workforce partners and drive relevant curricular adaptations.
  • Using data, recommendations, and insights to drive staff development, training, and technology deployment.
  • Providing school counselors, students, parents, and other relevant stakeholders with consistent communication so they have a specific understanding of the curricular purpose of these courses.
  • Promoting flexibility among school leadership with outcomes, staffing, and scheduling needs. The development of these programs is not an exercise in immediate impact, and the third year of the program will no doubt look different than the first.

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