Customized Career Readiness Curriculum: How Schools and Students Benefit

Jill Monte - Content Specialist ·

Project Spotlight –Abington Junior High School

Career readiness has been a common topic in the workforce development and educational arenas for many years, and now more than ever, bridging the gap between education and workforce preparation is crucial. Many educators and administrators are asking, “Are we properly preparing our youth early enough to get them on the track of a career or post-secondary training that both utilizes their skills and interests and also aligns with employers and labor force needs?”

In this blog, you’ll hear from Consultant and Curriculum Developer Shana McCarron in a Q&A interview about a career readiness project she oversaw with Abington Junior High School in Pennsylvania as they prioritized preparing their students for post-secondary education and the workforce.

Shana McCarron, EDSI Consultant

Q1: Tell me about how the customized career readiness curriculum project came about.

A1: Abington Junior High School received a Teachers in the Workforce grant and connected with one of our staff who was an alumnus of the school to pursue a partnership. The Abington Junior High School Principal was interested in developing a school-wide curriculum based on educating students on career pathways and employability skills to give them all the foundational skills they would need to be successful in their post-secondary or post-college careers. The school worked with EDSI to create an after-school program that developed and built essential college and career readiness knowledge in a fun, interactive, age-appropriate format that would reach all students in grades 6-8. It was the school district’s hope in entering this project, that introducing career exploration and soft skills would blend well with traditional school curriculum to create a well-rounded student body.

Q2: What was EDSI’s role in this project and what was your specific expertise?

A2: As a curriculum team consultant, I was responsible for spearheading the project, managing the development timeline, providing important instructional design tools and coaching. In the initial launch meeting, I introduced the project, the timeline and information on how the curriculum would be built, and how the lessons would be organized, including resources and materials to use during the process. I was able to work effectively with Abington staff and teachers by using the Google Classroom and Google Drive platforms for easy document and file sharing. Initially, when I met with the Principal and Assistant Principal, they said that teachers have received professional development in the "understanding by design" model for instructional design, however they did not use a specific lesson planning tool. I used a simple adaptation of a lesson plan that focused on applying the understanding by design process. This was helpful because it provided standardized information about each lesson that could be used and implemented in multiple classrooms by multiple teachers.

My expertise was in the overall instructional design of the program, so my role focused a lot on:

  • Making sure content and lessons flowed well, with a cohesive look and feel
  • Posing questions and offering suggestions about supplemental activities
  • Ensuring order of material was organized and effective
  • Analyzing and re-working content as needed
  • Ensuring lessons met stated goals
  • Preparing teachers to deliver the curriculum via Train-the-Trainer (T3)

Q3: The curriculum and program content seems very relevant. How was it developed and by whom?

A3: I came up with several different content strands based on industry research and ensured alignment to the PA Department of Education- Academic Standards for Career Education and Work to begin the framework of the career readiness curriculum.

I relied on the Abington instructional staff to share their insights on the content topics they thought would be most useful and land best with their students and they subsequently generated a list of topics to build the lessons around. They were also well-versed in what material fit well with the grant and academic audit requirements they needed to meet. This great collaboration led to a very relevant, user-friendly, age-appropriate curriculum for the teachers to deliver to each of the different grade levels: 6th, 7th and 8th.

The following graphic illustrates the content strand topic areas of Communication, Self-Empowerment, Professional Image and Career Pathways, with lessons on customer service, attitude, goal setting, teamwork, money management and more included under each category.

The curriculum was designed in 20-30-minute mini lessons that focused on building knowledge and awareness of employability skills to support workforce preparation and career pathways exploration. Completion of each workshop resulted in a badge, which integrated gamification as a method to increase students’ excitement and enthusiasm. Upon completing all three levels of curriculum, certificates for key content topics were administered.

Curriculum Design Snapshot

  • Total of 30 lessons over a 3-year sequence
  • 30-minute lessons
  • Classroom-based with virtual/distance differentiation
  • Spiraled approach with 4 themes
  • Focus on interaction, discussions, and engagement
  • Aligned to PA Department of Education – Academic Standards for Career Education and Work

Q4: How important is contextualized learning in the curriculum you designed for Abington?

A4: Contextual learning is very important. It is a method of instruction that enables students to apply new knowledge and skills to real-life situations. I think as teachers begin to stretch their scope of instruction to enhance their lessons with a career readiness spin, it will set the stage for students to eventually enter the workforce, whether that is after high school or post-college.

Q5: Tell us about the Train-the-Trainer (T3) aspect of the project.

A5: Besides developing the curriculum, a key part of the project was preparing the teachers to deliver the lessons. Pre-Covid, we would meet in person to go over all the lesson plans, but these times called for a different approach. I saw this different approach as a valuable opportunity to create a sustainable resource for teachers that can be reviewed at any time. The end-result was a recorded webinar that was based on the overview of the project, why it was designed, what the content consisted of, where and how to find materials, how to locate resources, and curriculum delivery recommendations.

All the teachers who were involved self-selected their preferred content area to teach, and then as a group they met offline in workgroups to divvy up the work and talk specifics about the content and delivery process. I ended up meeting individually or in pairs with the teachers to train them on delivery best practices and answer questions about the curriculum. Shown below is a snapshot of the curriculum development process.

Q6: What did the teachers specifically appreciate most about EDSI’s curriculum work?

A6: The teachers shared that between state-mandated testing, increased teaching effectiveness measures, and virtual teaching during COVID, they were overwhelmed. They said they were so appreciative that we could hit the ground running to develop this standardized curriculum design, which offered ease-of-use and flexibility. They enjoyed being able to take more of a holistic student approach with career pathways and labor market preparation being the end goals. The teachers found it rewarding to work within the stand-alone career readiness curriculum and to step outside of their primary, customary subject area.

We asked Abington Junior High School Principal Daniel File to reflect on what it was like to work with EDSI and Shana McCarron, and he shared that EDSI’s expertise resulted in an impactful and innovative final product.

“The curriculum development process could not have been easier. For any of the topics where we needed more information or suggestions, Shana was able to provide all of the information we needed. We were especially impressed with her as she worked collaboratively with our team and individuals to build effective lessons. She had a great attention to detail and was not satisfied until all of our final products were excellent. Shana is a great listener and knowledgeable partner that was an essential part of our curriculum development.

I would highly recommend EDSI as a partner for other schools, especially given the focus on college/career planning and the soft skills/social and emotional learning that goes along with it. EDSI will help you reach your individual school or grade level goals.”

- Daniel File, Abington Junior High School Principal

Q7: How did Abington benefit from working with EDSI on this project?

A7: Schools, staff, teachers and resources are so tight these days, and I think we provided a great value to come in and do the heavy lifting to get things started. We served Abington by overseeing this project from start to finish, ultimately saving them time, money, and frustration. With EDSI being responsible for organizing the planning and coaching part of the process, the development of curriculum, and alignment of lessons, it gave Abington teachers the gift of being able to focus on delivering the curriculum itself. When the project was complete, we all agreed on how important it is for students to have this type of curriculum weaved into their academic repertoire.

Curriculum tips graphic
Curriculum-Building Tips

Q8: What other opportunities do you see in the K-12 arena for this type of programming?

A8: I think there is a growing awareness in the K-12 and adult education arenas that career readiness is crucial and needs to be more of a focus. A lot of school districts have individualized employment plans and career development programs and are talking about digging deeper into career readiness. Now Abington is sort of a pioneer when it comes to career readiness. They are a great example of how schools, in partnership with higher education, business, industry, and families, are beginning to align goals and resources to ensure students are prepared for the realities of post-secondary education, careers, and life.

Q9: How can someone learn more about career readiness in their state?

A9: Every state is different. States often measure career readiness by industry-recognized certifications or work-based learning experiences, and as of 2020, 35 states require and/or fund work-based learning experiences and have a menu of options to demonstrate college and career readiness for K-12 students. Go to your state’s education website for more information on local legislation updates.

As an example, check out Pennsylvania’s Department of Education website here. Pennsylvania’s robust career readiness plan and a supportive mayor play a big role in moving this initiative forward. There is also a page that links to grant opportunities.

Other helpful career readiness resources

U.S. Department of Labor Grant Funding Opportunities

Career Readiness Resource Articles

If you are interested in learning more about career readiness, curriculum design or customized training, fill out the form below and one of our experts will contact you.