Beginning in kindergarten, Plymouth School District students are being shown how what they're learning in school is related to what will happen after graduation.
The district has adopted a Comprehensive Counseling Program based on state and national standards.
The goal of the program is the academic success of every single student, teaching them the skills to be better students and helping them become better citizens.
Counselors focus on helping each student identify 1) Who they are, i.e. their strengths and abilities; 2) Where they want to go career-wise; and 3) How they can get there.
Beginning in the third grade, students begin developing an online career portfolio, which they revise and develop throughout their school years. A completed portfolio is required for graduation, as Plymouth High School strives to prepare each student to enter the workforce or pursue higher education.
21st century learning skills
The program embodies a paradigm shift in the area of school counseling. Counseling is no longer the sole responsibility of school counselors (no longer known as guidance counselors), but is shared with the entire staff as classroom teachers guide students in developing their career portfolios.
And while counselors still help students in crisis, they also provide individualized planning for all students in the form of PEP Talks. (See information at right.)
Responses to the program
Students have been responding positively to the PEP Talks. Asked to rate the usefulness of the conferences on a scale from 1 to 5, scores in the various grades ranged from 4.67 to 4.80.
Several eighth-graders who had gone through their first PEP Talk admitted they were nervous at first, but really appreciated the chance to focus on their positive attributes.
Students particularly enjoy hearing their parents talk about their strengths. “I liked having my Mom say something good about me,” one eighth-grader said.
Some happy tears are shed at PEP Talks, counselors say, even by fathers.
Other students appreciated the chance to talk to their parents about their hopes for the future. “The most helpful part was the chance to tell my parents what interests me,” one student said.
PEP Talks have been very well-received by parents as well. Asked to rate the usefulness of the conference on a scale from 1 to 5, average scores in the various grades ranged from 4.79 to 4.89.
“The focus on ‘life skills’ and preparation for career planning will be an effective asset for our kids to compete on a global basis,” one parent wrote after a PEP Talk.
Parents appreciate the focus on the positives in their children. Even the discussion of grades focuses on a student's strengths.
PEP Talks also provide a chance for parents to learn about their children, especially about what they may be thinking about their futures. The PEP Talk was “a great way to go beyond the report card to see what our son is learning about himself,” said one parent.
Another parent said it was nice to see her son talk so highly of himself. “He’s not always the most open, so it was cool to see what his goals in life are. Thanks for taking the time to do this! I think this will only improve as the years go on -- hopefully by the time he graduates he will be confident in himself.”
Others expressed a wish that such a program had been in place when they were in school.
“Being in the business world I think this is an extremely valuable tool to get our next leaders thinking of goals, strengths and challenges. I wish the tool was available when I was young,” wrote one parent. “As a manager I am teaching adults these same things.”
The program is working. The state has found that achievement goes up, as measured by GPA, with participation in such comprehensive programs.
PEP Talks have numerous benefits:
Comprehensive Counseling Programs have been shown to produce:
A key component of the Plymouth School District counseling program is the PEP Talk, short for Plymouth Educational Plan. The PEP Talk is a meeting between a counselor, a student and his or her parent(s). The length and focus of the talk depends on the age of the student, but the emphasis is always on the student's strengths and goals.
PEP Talks are held with the following students:
• Third-graders: In advance of these 30-minute talks, students make a “learner resume” that outlines strengths, challenges, academic goals, interests and career ideas.
• Sixth-graders: Families can choose either a 60-minute group session or an individual 30-minute session. The focus is on learning styles and strategies, multiple intelligences and strategies, co-curriculars and career exploration. Students and parents are introduced to Career Cruising, a personalized web-based career-planning tool that can help students explore careers and also build a portfolio they can use when applying to colleges or for jobs.
• Eighth-graders: These 45-minute talks focus on a student's strengths and interests, academic performance and dreams for the future. A key component is a look at the high school curriculum to help students select the courses that will help them reach their career goals. Students also share their Career Cruising electronic portfolios with their parents.
• Freshmen: These 45-minute talks include an interest inventory; a review of academic, personal, social and career goals; a discussion of extracurricular activities; and a review of the student’s page on Career Cruising.
• Juniors: These 45-minute talks look toward the student’s post-graduation plans.
Discussion of the student's interests, extracurricular activities and volunteer work is included at each stage. It has been shown that students engaged in such pursuits perform better.
In between PEP Talk years, students update their learner resumes or online career portfolios.