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

Colonial School District, located northwest of Philadelphia, is a combination of the borough of Conshohocken and two townships–Plymouth and Whitemarsh–in Montgomery County. The district serves over 5,000 students, who hail from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The schools within the region are generally highly regarded for a high level of academic achievement across the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

For two years in a row, Colonial School District has applied the Career Readiness Mini-Grant to activities beyond the typical academic schedule, which the district notes would not have been possible without this supplemental funding. Last year, the grant was applied toward high school students, and this year, the school district decided to focus on middle school students with the goal of each student building a career portfolio by the end of eighth grade. Denise Marks, Director of Development and Curriculum Supervisor for Career Readiness, identified three main areas of focus: increasing exposure to technical education; hosting a career fair; and providing online and virtual resources to help students build their career portfolios.

For the first area of focus — increasing exposure to technical education — Marks began by having seventh graders take an online survey to identify three areas of study that might interest them and are uniquely offered at the technical high school. Then, students received a tour Central Montco Technical High School, where they explored the 17 different programs offered, from allied health, to culinary arts, to landscape design. With approximately 10% of students in Colonial School District attending Central Montco Technical High School beginning in 10th grade, the goal is to help students think about their career paths at a younger age and whether the technical school might be part of their education.

Marks is also planning to host a career fair this spring for sixth and seventh-grade students. Rather than just focus on a random array of businesses, the career fair highlights 25 different speakers from high priority career areas in the county, particularly in the growing healthcare industry. Students rotate around the fair and select three careers of interest. In addition to assisting with identifying the high priority career areas, the Local Workforce Development Board, MontcoWorks, has been instrumental in securing twelve speakers from the healthcare field and making connections that otherwise would not have been possible. Through these new connections, the district has also identified new ways to partner with these industry leaders that will benefit students and educators beyond this academic year.