By Betty Vannatter
Career guidance is an important part of education, yet without the proper tools schools may find it difficult to engender a high level of motivation and self-determination in their students. One stumbling block to any school district program, of course, is complying with government school-to-work demands, which can be nerve-wracking.
One group, the Northwest Suburban Special Educational Organization (NSSEO) in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, realized the limitations of its existing Career Guidance agenda, and recently piloted an impressive new software program in an effort to expand and deepen its curriculum, and help more students.
The NSSEO is specifically set up to provide transition services. The program supports students in their efforts to succeed in the real world after graduation. It helps high school students plan for: bridging into post-secondary community living; interacting with the community; entering into gainful employment; and further training after high school, if necessary.
NSSEO had been using a Computer Career Guidance program to work with the high school students, and although it was adequate, the program's limitations were beginning to curtail the students' abilities to expand beyond certain pre-set levels.
Don Minor, Supervisor of Transition Services at NSSEO, felt the need for a more flexible system, one with fewer limitations, and that was easier to administer.
"The earlier program we had was a good first step in career guidance," Minor avers, "But it required a high level of training to administer. That meant a lot of education dollars were being spent on specific teacher training. Then, if a teacher left, she took that training with her, and we had to start all over again,"
NSSEO finally learned about a new Career Guidance program called Magellan when Neal Gunderson, Vice President of Sales for Valpar, called at their offices.
Magellan is a software product from Valpar International in Tucson, Arizona, designed to help students become more aware of themselves and their career options. Unlike traditional career information systems, Magellan's greatest strength is the use of criterion-referenced surveys. For career skill assessment, this is far more relevant than typical norm-referenced information that compares one individual to another, primarily because criterion-referenced results compare individuals directly to specific occupational skill requirements.
Gunderson offered Minor the opportunity to test run the Magellan program with its new workbooks, and the district installed it in the fall of 1999.
The federal government requires that every "special needs" student must have an individualized education plan that includes a career component. Understanding that requirement, and responding to demands from special needs educators, Valpar created a specific workbook to use with their Magellan program designed specifically for these children that is easier to read and use. Now school districts don't have to design and write their own transition planning curriculums to use with the program.
Using Magellan, its Guide and Workbooks, students are able to establish a connection with the teacher and the program itself. They learn to appreciate the importance and benefits of surveying their interests and aptitudes, and the value of exploring different areas to develop their career profile. A real benefit is that by using the program, students actually begin focusing on what they will be doing after high school at a point in their lives when they can actually do something about it.
Because lessons do not have to be taught sequentially, when working in the program, students can skip from chapter to chapter or start and stop without losing their momentum. Magellan allows for "self-determination" and every student, regardless of capability level, is able to research every job or occupation he or she has an interest in, whether or not they've considered it before.
"The success of this system is evidenced by our ability to encourage students to invest their time in the program," states Minor. "Whatever we can provide in a counseling format that really provides good access and interest level formats is going to help engage students in that self-determination process. To me, that is the key, and this program is an important part of that."
Minor feels that Magellan will be highly successful for the NSSEO and is enthusiastic about the program. He believes it will help educators bridge the gap for Special Education students and others between high school and post-secondary community living. Because the program makes it possible for all levels of students to work independently with a minimum of supervision, each student can work at his or her own level and pace. Magellan also avoids the halo effect of having students fail because no one believes they can succeed.
Although the NSSEO has only been using Magellan for a short time, its students are now easily moving from school to the work world. Their new program is an important tool in this endeavor because it creates an environment where students at all levels can make better career choices for themselves. Minor believes the future will reveal the program's longterm potential and success. But so far, the NSSEO is receiving excellent feedback from students, the community, and its teachers.
"Magellan takes the pressure off of the staff because the program doesn't require supervision at a highly technical level," notes Minor.
Even though Minor can't officially endorse any products, his final words are clear, "I think it's going to be a good system for us, and I would definitely recommend it to other school districts."
For more information, contact Valpar International Corp. at PO Box 5767, Tucson, AZ 85703-5767, (800) 528-7070, or by visiting their Website at www.valparint.com.