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A Teach-in test drive

A software program helps Pinellas County schools and students make better choices.

Published November 16, 2006


It didn't pack the same punch as the hip-hop demonstration at Woodlawn Elementary. And it didn't rival the basketball-playing bird's performance at Safety Harbor Secondary School.

But a former principal's visit to a St. Petersburg middle school Wednesday arguably gave kids a more realistic view of career options than many offerings at the 13th annual Great American Teach-in.

John Leanes, who is leading Pinellas' efforts to better prepare students for the work force, spent the afternoon at Southside Fundamental Middle School telling kids about an online inventory designed to help them align their interests and aptitudes with specific careers.

He also showed them a site that matches career prep courses with the district's 17 high schools. The list surprised more than one student.

Raven Dakota, 13, who said she likes to cook, learned she can study culinary arts at Tarpon Springs High and Northeast High. Allaura Sherman, 12, who said she always has been interested in marine science, discovered she can study it at Lakewood High.

And Mike Marcum, 12, who said he never knows what to say when people ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, got excited about Northeast's automotive collision repair program.

"I never really thought about what I wanted to do before," Mike said. "This was really cool."

With Leanes' guidance, the Southside students became the first in the district to test drive Choices Explorer, a new software program that all Pinellas eighth-graders will use to help them choose a major area of interest to pursue in high school.

Such career clusters - four courses over and above their core requirements - can include academic subjects such as science or math, or vocational fields such as culinary arts and auto repair. The point, Leanes told the Southside students, is for them to start thinking about their futures while they still have time to shape them.

He also explained that career preparation at a younger age is now a requirement. The Florida Department of Education's push for middle school reform, which began in 2004, evolved last spring into a broad middle and high school package known as the A Plus Plus Plan. Gov. Jeb Bush signed off on the legislation in June.

Among its provisions: that all students entering ninth grade in 2007 declare majors and minors, just as college students do.

Some parents have said that's too soon for children to declare majors. But Cathy Fleeger, an assistant superintendent in charge of high school education, said kids can change their majors in each of their four years of high school.

"It truly is just an effort to hook students into an interest area," Fleeger said. "They may never complete a major, but they'll always have a target and be aiming at something."

As soon as the state compiles a list of available majors, Fleeger said, Pinellas school officials will begin scheduling evening and Saturday sessions to let parents know which career clusters will be available and which high schools will offer them. The goal is to have all the groundwork in place before the choice application period for attendance area schools opens in March, Fleeger said.

Meanwhile, Kayla McQueen, 13, will complete the online skills inventory she learned about Wednesday. She's hoping it will show her she has the talent to fulfill her heart's desire: to become an elementary science teacher.

[Last modified November 16, 2006, 05:47:07]

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