Early start on career path
A new requirement puts middle schoolers on the clock.
By LETITIA STEIN
Published April 24, 2007
TAMPA - The eighth-graders are told to close their eyes. They are about to get down to serious business.
Guidance counselor Pearl Ershery asks the group to imagine eight years into the future. Today is their college graduation.
What comes next?
"Burger King?" A wisecrack breaks the silence filling the media center at Valrico's Mulrennan Middle School.
After the snickers come thoughtful answers. Several students want to be lawyers. One child is considering a medical career. Another sees a future as a veterinarian.
La Toya Sims, 13, isn't sure.
"Many people graduate from college undecided," Ershery tells her. "But you'll have to work on it."
This is the first year Florida is requiring middle school students to begin thinking about a career plan. The idea is to get them ready to choose a college-style major and minor, which all high school freshmen will have to do beginning next year.
Asking 13- and 14-year-olds what they want to do with their lives might seem a bit much.
Guidance counselors say the kids are ready for it. "Except for the ones that their parents are freaking out," says Shanshera Quinn, a supervisor for guidance services in middle schools.
During this startup year, the eighth-graders have to identify a career interest. The state has compiled a Web site with information about career options, complete with salaries and details about a typical day.
Educators stress that kids aren't locked into their choices.
"We know that they are not going to make any definite career plans or goals in eighth- or ninth-grade," Quinn says.
A group of eighth-graders at Mulrennan Middle School recently went through the process. They treated what could be a weighty decision like, well, middle school kids.
After hearing her classmates talk about their plans, La Toya decides to become a lawyer. "I just like to argue with people," she says.
Her resolve lasts as long as it takes to log into a state Web site and fill out her official "ePersonal Education Planner," or ePEP.
She watches the girl next to her, Jasmine Gray, scroll through the "career clusters" options. Jasmine hones in on "Art, Design, Entertainment, Sports and Media Occupations."
"I want to sing, and if that goes down the drain, I want to make clothes," Jasmine, 14, explains.
La Toya makes the same selection. Both girls tease each other about copying.
Nearby, Stephanie Saiz, 13, wonders what would fall under "Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations."
"I want to become a doctor, but like one of those scientific ones that finds diseases," she says.
Jeremy Cole begins the session as a budding lawyer. An hour later, the 14-year-old already has changed his mind.
"I don't want to be hated by some people," says Jeremy, on why he walked away from the law. "I like the idea of being a photographer, traveling and taking pictures of people."
Jeremy isn't worried about whether he will change his mind again. College is a long way off - and he's keeping his options open.
"I guess anything," he says, considering what else might appeal to him. "I have no clues."
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3400.
The law that created high school majors also changed the graduation requirements. Beginning next school year, high school students will take a one-credit physical education and health course. A fourth math credit also is required.