Career Compass program gives students direction to succeed.

February 19, 2020

Career Compass program gives students direction to succeed.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — High school juniors at both Hart and Shelby high schools participating in the Career Compass Mentor Program are receiving valuable lessons from local professionals in the community.

The program includes 28 mentors from four participating businesses — Shelby State Bank, Gray & Company, Peterson Farms, Inc. and Silver Lake Resort and Campground, said Oceana College Access Network (OCAN) Coordinator Alyssa Merten.

Career Compass piloted at Shelby High School in 2018 and 2019 with Peterson Farms, Merten said, and then it expanded to include Hart High School and the additional businesses in 2020. There are a total of 70 students from both schools participating.

Small groups of two mentors and three to seven students meet every week eight times during the mid-point of the school year.

“Sessions focus on identifying strengths, weaknesses, and interests; exploring career options; practicing soft skills; learning about paying for college; exploring job shadow opportunities; goal setting; and more,” said Merten.

The program continues until mid-March.

Career Compass’ mission is to “connect high school students to community-based mentors to empower youth to consider education beyond high school as a realistic option and equipping them with tools to plan for and attend post-secondary institutions.”

“Peterson Farms is honored to be a part of OCAN’s Career Compass Mentoring Program,” said mentor Grant Boring, who is the communications manager for Peterson Farms. “We recognize the importance of developing the next generation and our team of associates have a vast variety of educational backgrounds which we hope can help the students to see the scope of opportunities that exist for them beyond high school, and what vast opportunities are available in Oceana County. We all have a responsibility to play a role in developing the next generation.

“This is my first year participating in the Career Compass Mentoring Program,” said Boring. “I was excited to volunteer for this program because I believe it’s important for students to hear from adults who have been in their shoes and can talk through the questions they have about college, trade schools or other post-school options. It’s been great to get to know the students in my group and to understand the challenges and questions they have for their future. I personally did not follow a traditional career path and enjoyed sharing my with my group how my educational decisions shaped my career.”

Hart High School Principal Brandon Bruce said the program kicked off at Hart in mid-January. Hart students meet with their mentors in the cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon, and SHS students meet Wednesday afternoon. The program takes place during the last 45 minutes of the school day.

Although the students miss class to attend the program, the benefits of it far outweigh being absent once a week, Bruce said. Currently, there are 32 HHS juniors participating.

“Yesterday, they talked about goal setting and what their plans are after high school, and how can they afford college,” he said.

The students work on their “soft skills,” which include “being able to professionally have a conversation with someone; recognizing proper attire; and how to handle job interviews,” Bruce said.

“Interpersonal skills can make the difference. They could have all the skills, but may not have the social skills.”

Students hear this kind of advice from teachers all the time, he said, but “it’s nice to get it from someone else.”

The program takes the students “outside of their comfort zone,” which is something they will experience in the work force. Another positive is that the students and mentors “build bonds.”

“They’re about halfway through with the program,” Bruce said, “and they are starting to recognize the great value of it. The mentors are committed.”

The mentors attend specific training through OCAN.

“It’s nice of the businesses to give up that time,” he said.

“It’s a mix of kids interested in college and trades — it’s not just focused on post-secondary education,” the principal said. “With Peterson’s expansion, it’s a benefit for them, because they could be future employees.”

Students visit the job sites through another program — Students in the Workplace, said Bruce. The same businesses involved in the mentoring program participate.

“They’re teaching what steps I can take after high school,” said HHS junior Rolando Vela: “I like it a lot. They provide answers.”

“They help us find out what are the most needed jobs around here,” said Vela, who is undecided about his future career. He’s hoping to stay in the community after attending college, so that information is extremely valuable. “They explain how to apply for FSFA (Federal Student Financial Aid), scholarships and grants. They also explain the steps needed to apply to college. I’m really taking advantage of it.”

“We talk a lot about different loan options and scholarships,” said Hart junior Rileeana Simon. “We talk about the different things to do outside of school to put on your resume, like volunteering. The mentors talk about different opportunities such as interning — that way you will know if you really want to pursue that career.”

Career Compass’ goals include:
1. Provide youth with consistent encouragement, skills, and motivation to succeed personally and academically.
2. Expose mentees to college and career-focused resources and opportunities including ways to pay for college, career exploration and job shadow opportunities.
3. Assist mentees with setting a relevant, measurable, achievable goal to set forward on their path to post-secondary education.
4. Provide youth real world context and understanding of soft skills and employee expectations as they begin thinking about first employment opportunities and exploring career options.

Simon, who is planning to pursue a career in law, said she is currently enrolled in the Academy of Science, Math and Technology (ASM Tech) Early College High School program at West Shore Community College,

ASM Tech “provides an opportunity for college-ready high school sophomores to jump ahead one year and earn 60 college credits for free,” states WSCC’s web site. “This all happens while each student develops an individualized educational path that matches his or her career aspirations.”

Simon said she is thinking about attending Ferris State University after high school and then going to law school at the University of Michigan. “I’ve always loved the justice system,” she said.

Both students said the Career Compass Mentor Program has provided the direction they need to succeed after high school.

“I really enjoy it,” said Simon. ‘I think it helps seeing what other people are doing.”

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