Helping students explore and experience multiple postsecondary possibilities before graduation is a central role of school counselors. This week’s guest shares how her school corporation found a creative way that engaged both students and educators!
This Week's Storyteller
Jessica Horlacher is the new Assistant Director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) at Indian Trails Career Cooperative in north central Indiana. The cooperative serves ten schools including Twin Lakes High School where Jess was previously a high school counselor. In her spare time, Jessica is also President-Elect of the Indiana Association of CTE and Communication Chair for the Indiana School Counselor Association (ISCA).
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Hi, everyone. So glad to have you back with us for another Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success.
Of the three domains of school counseling, I have a particular passion for college and career readiness – especially ensuring students understand they have many EXCELLENT options after high school, no matter if they’re headed to college right after senior year or directly to the workforce. A key component of all federal career preparation programs in schools is a focus on nontraditional careers; that is, breaking down those traditional stereotypes that imply that some jobs are only for men and others only for women.
This is where Jessica Horlacher comes in. She was a counselor at Twin Lakes High School a few years ago when her local career cooperative started a project to introduce more female students to welding.
We have a female welding instructor at Twin Lakes, and she did a program a few years ago called Women in Welding and got to bring in female staff members. So she started it off that way, where we came in and we did about four weeks. So twice a week, we came in after school and kind of learned the basics and got to make a project. But, her students came in to teach their teachers. And I went in, I was terrified. I was like, you’re going to let us play with torches and fire and expect us to make something, but her students were in their element. And so, those were some of my students and to see that and their excitement on, “Oh, adults are still learning — there’s things I know that they don’t know,” and getting to teach us was awesome.
And the result was just as amazing. So many students heard how much fun their teachers and counselors had with their welding experiences, that today it’s not uncommon for several female students to enroll in the welding program each year.
I mean, I could kind of say, “Well, this is what you do in welding,” but I had no experience with it. And then after that, we had our projects and our offices, teachers had them outside their classrooms. And so we were able to say like, this is what we did, how we did it, how much fun I had. It turned into that program. It ran a couple more times, but then it was five female staff members, but then they had to bring five female students with them.
In order to get more students familiar with occupations in the skilled trades, the regional building trades council now holds a summer expo that allows high school students to come and explore the trades for one day a week for seven weeks in the summer.
Like one day might be carpenters and electricians, so you can go to one in the morning and one in the afternoon and you’re — for some of them — you’re in their classroom, so you can kind of do what they start teaching their new apprentices. I mean, they’re getting kids in the welding booth, like after 30 minutes. They’re like, we’re going to show you, you’re going to do it. They bring in many excavators to start showing operating engineers. It’s yeah, it’s really cool.
It’s so cool in fact that the organizers had to remind teachers and counselors that – um – this is a program for STUDENTS.
Oh, yeah. I mean, when I went two summers ago, I had a blast! I have learned so much because there were things I didn’t know about some of those trades.
It is! So I’m trying to get students to go, so it’s not so many teachers and it’s more kids this year.
It’s still a little troubling to me when I hear employers say high school counselors push college as the only or best postsecondary option for students. There IS an emphasis in many high schools on college readiness and dual credits and AP courses, etc, but Jessica says students benefit when they know that they have MULTIPLE education and training options available after high school.
It was funny, I was talking with an AP English teacher the other day, because I’ve kind of been putting together a career education resource website for teachers. And she goes, “You know, a lot of my kids in my class are going to college. This is the path they’re on being in AP.” She goes, “But they almost have a sense of relief that I’m talking to them about other options that they can have something else to think of. Even if that’s not something they’ll do, but it’s there just in case.”
Sort of a backup.
Yeah. So it was really nice to hear that from an AP teacher who was a former college professor.
At Inspire Success we believe it really comes down to helping more students connect their skills, abilities, and interests with a meaningful career that they enjoy, that pays a living wage, and provides opportunities for growth.
I was talking with another counselor at our county school who helped me organize it. And she had a couple seniors who came and she goes, “I just saw the light in their eyes that there’s another option and it’s a good one.” And she goes, “If that’s what comes out of this today, that’s all that matters.” And I just wholeheartedly agreed because the students don’t get a chance to really explore these options and now they’re excited that we’re really kind of trying to incorporate them into their school environment as well.
Thanks, Jessica. The welding program that she was involved in was so popular that they presented it at the national conference in San Antonio just a few years ago.
We’d love to read a sentence or two about what YOU’RE doing at your school with college and career awareness, whatever the grade level, and it’s easy to do – just drop us a quick note firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, you can find other stories from school counselors on our website at inspiresuccess.org/podcast. Be sure to tell your friends about the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast.
I think that’s it for this week. Thanks for joining us. Have a great week!