Windsor Locks Career Pathways Program Offering High School Students “Real World” Work Experience Before Going Off to College

“So what do you want to do with your life?” High school seniors are often asked that daunting question without having any idea how to respond. While many students may have plans to attend college, very few have any real world experiences to determine what they should be studying. With the rising cost of a college education, parents and students alike would benefit from the opportunity for students to get a closer look at potential career options before attending college.

With the support of two grants totaling $274,372 from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, Windsor Locks Public Schools has developed and begun to implement a plan to provide college and career pathways for students beginning in sixth grade all the way through high school.

“Thanks to the extreme generosity of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, we now have the critical support necessary to launch one of the most important components of our student-centered vision – helping EVERY student to chart their own pathway towards college, career, and life success,” said Susan A. Bell, Ed.D., superintendent of Windsor Locks Public Schools.

While much of Windsor Locks Public Schools’ career and college pathways plan has yet to be implemented, a small group of Windsor Locks High School students has been given opportunities to receive some real-world work experience before they enter college and choose a major in a specific subject area. While some of these students left these experiences feeling confident that they have made the right choice in their future career ambitions, others realized this wasn’t the right fit for them and are looking to explore other potential college and career options. These are lessons that are not typically offered to high school students and are invaluable as they invest their time and considerable resources pursuing a college education.

Allison Nelson is the Transitions/Pathways Coordinator at Windsor Locks High School and she works closely with students, faculty and community members to help students discover what's next after high school.  Nelson views her role as helping students become lifelong learners and develop skills that will take them to their desired pathway with help from the community and staff at Windsor Locks High School.

“Through the Pathways work, we are really going to be able to give opportunities to our students and help them be college and career ready like never before. We are excited to take what we’ve learned from these students and scale up the effort over the next few years with this exciting work.”

At a kick-off event of the career pathways work earlier this year, several Windsor Locks High School seniors shared their stories with members of the community and school staff. These are some of the students’ firsthand accounts of participating in the “Transitions/Pathways” program:

Courtney Prestwich, senior:

Throughout my high school years, there have been many career decisions that I have pondered such as, “Who am I going to be?” and “How would I get there?” Prior to my placement working in the Windsor Locks Middle School’s guidance office I had seriously considered pursuing a career as a teacher. I went to WLMS every Tuesday for four months for about two hours, and helped students with their problems. I assisted students to help them become a part of the school’s peer mediation group, an activity that I once participated in when I was in middle school. This opportunity to explore my options made me realize that I didn’t want to become a teacher, and I wanted to become a guidance counselor. From being unsure about my future, to now being certain that I want to be a guidance counselor, is incredibly reassuring at the age of 18 years old. Now I actually have a clue as to who I want to be.

Tej Desai, senior:

“As a high school senior soon planning to attend college I was interested in learning more about the field of accounting. I am grateful have the opportunity to participate in an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) at the Windsor Locks Federal Credit Union. At the credit union, I am working with their accounting department to answer my question, “what is it like is to be an accountant?” This experience has been amazing as it has provided me with the real world experience of working as an accountant. This opportunity taught me so much more than I could ever learn from a textbook in a high school accounting class. This experience has been extraordinary and I will be recommending it to other students who want actual real life work room experience in addition to classroom style learning.” (Update: Tej was recently hired to work as a member services representative at  Windsor Locks Federal Credit Union during the summer).

Kathryn LaPierre, Senior:

Windsor Locks High School has provided me with many real world experiences through my participation in the Pathways Program. During my junior year, I utilized pathways by taking an outside EMT class during the school day. This helped me to not only gain knowledge of what a class out of the high school setting would be like, but this experience also helped me to achieve a professional goal. In my senior year of high school, I have again became involved and took an internship at our local elementary school‘s Applied Behavioral Analysis program working with children on the autism spectrum. This experience helped me decide my future professional goal. When you see the growth in the children in just a few weeks by providing them with structure and guidance it is an amazing thing that I would like to provide to other children.

Mikaela Tittarelli, senior:

Working with Mrs. Nelson I did an internship with Mrs. Wrabel, an English teacher at Windsor Locks Middle School for my first semester in my senior year at Windsor Locks High School. I really wanted to have this experience, because I am passionate about English, so I thought that I might want to study to become an English teacher. I went to the middle school every Tuesday after school, and where I taught lessons and worked with children one-on-one to get the full teaching experience. This was truly an amazing experience, because I was able to see if teaching would be something I wanted to do in my future. What I discovered during those few weeks at the middle school is that teaching may not be for me. This early experience was extremely useful as it helped me to figure this out before choosing to pursue an education major in college. I would have never had the opportunity to figure this out without Mrs. Nelson’s help and dedication to this program. She also gave me the idea to meet a pharmacist on my own and job shadow with her. I found that I really enjoy pharmacy and think it may be a career I would like to pursue in college. I will now be going to the University of Connecticut next year, majoring in pharmacy.

“Windsor Lock’s Public Schools’ plan to offer students a personalized college and career pathway aligned with a mastery-based system of accountability is not only innovative, it is truly cutting edge,” said Sara Sneed, director of education investments for the Hartford Foundation.  “What excites us at the Foundation is that Windsor Locks Public Schools will not only engage every one of its students in this new approach, but the entire community. Foundation funds will help Windsor Locks to increase family, school and community partnerships and extended learning opportunities essential to the new pathways system.”

WLPS’ planned use of Foundation funds is consistent with the Foundation’s strategic goal: to ensure that our region’s children, especially those most disadvantaged, are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, and prepared to succeed when they leave high school.