Career Academies let high school students explore job options

Two pharmacists talk to students during the Fordson High School Career Fair in December 2019.

Heyam Alcodray had only been principal at Fordson High School for a few months in 2016 and was congratulating seniors on graduating, when she had an epiphany moment.

“Some of them said, ‘Thanks Mrs. Alcodray. But what now?’”

Those students were leaving without a clear direction for what they wanted to do next, how to take the next steps to adulthood, whether that was entering the workforce or planning for college and grad school.

Thus the seeds were planted for the Academies of Fordson, a system to get teens exploring careers before they leave high school.  Fordson is in its third year with the Academies, while Edsel Ford and Dearborn high schools launched their programs this year.

Freshmen students use YouScience software to narrow down where their career interests and aptitudes lie.  They also hear speakers from the workforce in each of the four broad career areas including Business and Hospitality; Health Sciences; Human Services; and Industry, Innovation, and Technology

Colleen Schumm, Fordson Academy lead teacher, says the Academy model stresses that students need some type of training after high school, but that might range from certification or trade school up to graduate school.

“There are many, many paths to career success after high school,” Schumm said. 

Each semester, students take an elective related to their Academy.

“There are not just four careers. There are lots of different career paths where students can be successful,” Schumm said.  

The idea is to expose students to some of the many possible career fields.  For example, Alcodray takes a group to Google every year while another group tours the Henry Ford Hospital.

“To show them what goes on in the real world is just very exciting to them,” Alcodray said.

As a result of the interest, Fordson has expanded what trade classes it offers, and the Michael Berry Career Center has added more careers to its offerings.  Fordson students are also using dual enrollment to explore more career options at Henry Ford College.

“The number of students going to the Michael Berry has almost doubled,” Alcodray said.  Today, 367 Fordson students attend MBCC for part of the day, up from 200 a few years ago.

Besides helping students find direction, studies have shown the Academy model can improve school’s appeal to students, meaning better attendance, better scores, higher graduation rates, and fewer discipline issues.

Schumm said parents like the Academies. Many of the programs speakers and advisors are alumni or have students or relatives who are Fordson Tractors.

“It’s been very positive so far.  The idea that we want kids focused on being career as well as college ready has been well received in the community,” Schumm said.

In 2006, Michigan began gradually implementing the Michigan Merit Curriculum, which focused on preparing students for college.  Requirements for things like four years of math and two of foreign language ate up time to explore career electives and forced students into a college-bound model that, for some, did not really fit, Schumm said.

Now in Michigan, trade jobs are going unfilled while some students are graduating or leaving college laden with debt for degrees that do not help them find work. 

The Academies model is intended to help students find where their interest, skills and the job market all meet. 

Edsel Ford is holding its first Freshmen Career Fair on February 4 and Dearborn High’s first event will be on March 13.  Both schools are recruiting professionals from a broad cross section of jobs to come and speak to students.  Those interested in presenting should contact Summer El-Mubarak at Edsel Ford or Jeehan Nasir at Dearborn High. 

The Academies are not intended to lock students into a certain career path like trade school or college, or even into a specific field, said Nasir, Dearborn High’s lead teacher for the academies.  But, the Academies should help them start to find a path that fits.

“It helps them narrow it down and save some time and money in the future,” Nasir said.

Alcodray said the academies should help students find that direction that some of her first graduates were missing.

“We are hoping this is going to help them solidify what they want to do,” Alcodray said.  “This is giving them a focus, a purpose.”