SOE News

New resources for middle school teachers from CareerStart

New resources for middle school teachers will soon be available online from CareerStart, a project designed to increase student engagement and ultimately reduce student dropout rates.

CareerStart lessons are designed to increase the relevance of the middle school curriculum through illustrations of jobs and careers. Written by experienced teachers, the mini-lessons integrate practical, relevant, real world illustrations that help students make a connection between the course content (e.g., North Carolina Standard Course of Study) and its application to future job and career options. CareerStart lessons draw on a range of jobs, from those that require technical training to those that require postgraduate degrees.

The goal of CareerStart is to have a positive influence on all students, especially those at higher risk for school failure, according to Project Director Dennis Orthner and Co-director Patrick Akos. Orthner is a professor in the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work and Akos is an associate professor of School Counseling in the School of Education.

Other key leaders include Julie McCann, CareerStart coordinator, and Dr. Don Martin, superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth school district, where an extensive, experimental evaluation of CareerStart has been ongoing.

Statistics indicate that only about 65-70 percent of high school students in America complete high school. Among children from families in poverty, fewer than half complete high school.  And the dropout rate for the lowest income students has increased over the past decade, despite higher test scores and stronger accountability measures. For these students, dropping out of high school is preceded by significant student disengagement in middle school. 

“During the middle school years, many students begin to believe that school and course content are irrelevant to their lives” said Orthner. “Even when vocational programs are offered to them in high school, it is frequently too late because they are already disengaged.” 

CareerStart supports teachers who are using the curriculum mini-lessons with coaching and frequent newsletters on career connections. Eighty-five percent of teachers exposed to the CareerStart strategy find integration of career content into the standard curriculum to be a helpful way to encourage students to consider possible jobs.

“While our data indicate that student engagement declines in middle school, we also find that students retain higher levels of engagement when multiple teachers provide career examples in the classroom,” noted Akos.  

Since its inception in 2005, the project has tracked nearly 6,500 students in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school district. It has expanded to include Thomasville City, Montgomery County, Randolph County and Stokes County school districts, among others.  

Initiated by funds from the U.S. Department of Justice, the project has also received support from the Winston-Salem Foundation, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, and a regional Workforce Innovations partnership grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Teachers interested in using the CareerStart lessons can find them on the LEARN NC website.

The lessons are accompanied by a teacher’s guide. All materials are free and available for use by any interested teacher.