This is a continuing series of stories in which we are highlighting the winning Career Readiness Mini-Grant projects.

West Allegheny Middle School wants to connect their students to career pathways based on not only their interests and strengths, but on the opportunities that are actually available to them in their local job market. Superintendent Dr. Jerri Lynn Lippert worked with principal Dr. Frank A. Hernandez and the team at West Allegheny Middle School to establish these career pathways through their district’s career awareness and exploration curriculum.

At West Allegheny School District, Dr. Lippert is focused on connecting every graduate to a viable post-secondary career and/or college, and she knows that needs to start before high school. Through the district’s Framework for Excellence, students choose one of seven career and college pathways as they transition from middle to high school.

Thanks in part to the Career Readiness Mini-Grant, that work can begin as early as 7th grade. First, West Allegheny Middle School identified a teacher committee to design their curriculum around career readiness. The lessons they developed are taught during social studies and will help students identify their interests and how those interests align with pathways in high-demand careers.

Representatives from Partner4Work, Allegheny County’s Local Workforce Development Board, have made presentations during class about in-demand careers in the region and how middle school students can start preparing for future career success. In addition to these in-class, in-person opportunities, students are using Virtual Job Shadow, an online and interactive career exploration program, to take a career interest survey and examine viable career opportunities. Then, they receive a list of careers that match their skills and interests but also align with careers in high-demand fields. The Career Readiness Mini-Grant covered the costs of a field trip to the Parkway West Career and Technical Center. Teachers are now working with their students to develop a career portfolio to use in high school and beyond.

Dr. Hernandez and the rest of the team at West Allegheny Middle School are looking forward to the program’s culminating event, a community presentation of their Career Interests Project. All 8th grade students will present their career interests, relevant high school classes, and the future training and skills required for their chosen careers to school administrators, fellow students, regional business leaders, and other key community members. Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Lippert are confident that this new program will help all students connect their passions and skills with high-demand career opportunities and put them on a path to success.