Career Pathways Student Conversations – Geneseo High School

Earlier in December, Travis Mackey, the principal at Geneseo (IL) High School, presented to the Illinois P-20 Network’s Career Pathways User Group about the development and use of the Alumni Career Connections feature of the Geneseo H.S. website.

As a follow-up, we met with four high school seniors from Geneseo High School to learn from them about their plans for postsecondary education and careers and to gain a better understanding of how they use their Alumni Career Connections tool. As is essentially always the case when listening to students speak about their experiences, there are a wide range of lessons shared by these students for educators to consider when planning in their own schools.

At the time of the publication of this video and blog post in December 2020, three of the four high school seniors were still in the process of finalizing their postsecondary plans. In each case, these students are planning on attending four-year universities, though these students recognized the importance of career exploration for all students and the important role that a wide range of postsecondary education options play in serving all students today.

Looking to the future, ultimately, all four of these high school seniors were steadfast in their commitment to prioritizing a love for one’s work and the need to make a difference for others as the ultimate considerations in selecting their careers and courses of study to prepare them for success in these careers.

December 2020

Alumni as Career Exploration Resources

In referencing college & career choices,

“We tried to figure out a way that our students could figure it out…”

Travis Mackey, Principal – Geneseo High School

Illinois’ Geneseo High School launched a website for both current students and alumni called Geneseo High School Alumni Career Connections that serves as a key component of the school’s career exploration efforts for and with students. This site connects graduates from Geneseo High School, which is about 25 miles west of the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities, and the Illinois/Iowa border, with one another and, most importantly, with current students. Through the Alumni Career Connections website, Geneseo alumni become a resource for career exploration for current high school students, who all engage with the Alumni Career Connections website systemically as part of their classes.

The full video presentation from the Illinois P-20 Network Career Pathways User Group is below, and this post continues below the video. For more information on the Illinois P-20 Network Career Pathways User Group, contact us via email.

The Alumni Career Connections Website – A tool that facilitates connections

Geneseo High School worked with a local website design company that already serves as their website provider to build out the custom Alumni Career Connections Website tool, which includes a survey for alumni to share their information, a database back-end, and a website with search parameters, an interactive map, and the search results and information that alumni have entered. At the time of this writing, there are currently almost 1,000 Geneseo alumni who have voluntarily submitted profiles. (For context, Geneseo High School currently serves just under 900 students according to the Illinois State Board of Education Illinois Report Card.) The school has a goal of doubling this to 2,000 alumni profiles.

Alumni are emailed and encouraged to provide their profiles and serve as a resource to current students, and even once in the database, reminder emails are sent every three years in order to ensure profiles are kept up-to-date as people change jobs and move from one location to another. Additionally, it should be noted that a Geneseo Community Unit School District 228 team must clean-up and verify each submission individually. (For example, this is one way to ensure that postsecondary institutions are listed in a single consistent format rather than having some respondents list Northern Illinois University as NIU while others write Northern.)

Systemically integrated into instruction

Teachers throughout the school use the Alumni Career Connections website in order to bring alumni into the classroom as experts who serve as guest speakers for students. Additionally, as teachers connect with alumni in specific fields, they actively reflect on the alignment between what and how they are teaching and the current reality of different types of workplaces. As a result of those conversations with former students, teachers make adjustments to their own instruction.

In addition to this approach, which positively impacts students throughout the school, all tenth grade students participate in a unit in their English class in which they identify a Geneseo graduate who works in an occupation that is of interest to them, and students interview them. Students are supported through this process with both a combination of pre-written consistent questions across all careers and with the flexibility to develop and ask their own specific questions that are of interest to them and/or specifically relevant to the occupation.

Building a positive culture around career exploration and connectedness

Central to the idea of the Alumni Career Connections website, is that it works on a “personal level” for current students. As Mr. Mackey describes, connecting students to alumni, “people who sat in the same seats that you (current students) do and had some of the same teachers you have had” has a tremendous impact on helping career exploration feel real to current students and that their career aspirations are possible. The tool has two other important side benefits:

  • Alumni stay connected to one another and to the school.
  • Alumni reference the teachers who impacted them, and honoring teachers “really keeps our teachers going” as they see how they made a difference in the lives of alumni after they have graduated.

December 2020

An Integrated, Comprehensive Approach to Career Readiness

Maine Township High School District 207, located in Park Ridge and Des Plaines, Illinois just north of O’Hare Airport, has developed a comprehensive approach to career readiness with its Integrated Career Services Team and their work with students, teachers and counselors, and community partners.

A meaningful career experience for
each student, each year.

Ken Wallace, Maine 207 Superintendent

Over the past five years, Maine 207 has focused on the development of career readiness that is:

  • accessible for all students and for each student
  • integrated throughout the school day
  • diverse in experiences from guest speakers in classes and clubs to paid internships
  • aligned with workforce needs in our communities and is aligned with students’ interests and passions
  • engaging for community members and organizations through their partnerships with the school district and their work with students

Connecting with Community Partners

In addition to the superintendent, the district’s leadership team, and the high school principals, the Integrated Career Services Team provides a very important public face for Maine 207 with the community. The Integrated Services Team creates and sustains relationships with business partners that engage in everything from serving as guest speakers to providing full internship experiences with students. To date, Maine 207 has developed a network of 700 community partners. Acknowledging that this number and range of partnerships may not be the same in our diverse communities across Illinois, all school districts already have relationships with businesses and community groups. Those relationships can and should be leveraged into real partnerships to support student learning generally and career experiences specifically.

Intentional Planning that Builds Over Time for Students

As can be seen in the two images below from the Maine 207 Integrated Career Services Team, the district’s work around career readiness focuses on long-term planning that extends into the middle schools and that builds upon itself with each passing year of high school.

In each of the above examples, the experiences start out as shorter experiences designed, over the course of multiple experiences, to give students an understanding of a broad range of potential careers. This is both developmentally appropriate for most ninth and tenth grade students, and it recognizes that, coming into high school, most students have a very limited understanding of what different careers and workplaces look and feel like in-action. Often times, younger high school students only have an intimate knowledge of the careers of their own adult family members, some other adults that they may know well, and their teachers. Even in these cases, they are likely to only have a limited, more superficial understanding of these careers. The approach taken by Maine 207’s plan is designed to address this head-on by potentially providing students with a strong foundation across many different career pathways. Starting ninth and tenth graders with everything from guest speakers to field trips to volunteer opportunities is also flexible enough to allow individual students to start focusing more specifically on individual career pathways in which they already think they have a greater interest.

Connecting Career Readiness to Engaging Instruction

Importantly, the career readiness activities also integrate with Maine 207’s focus on ensuring that all classes are designed around highly engaging learning. As career experiences are integrated into a wide range of classes, there are opportunities for teachers to more effectively and easily design instruction around authentic learning opportunities that allow students to both learn about careers and to learn concepts, content, and skills more deeply.

A Series and Sequence of Career Experiences

As students move into eleventh and twelfth grades, there are increasingly opportunities for more in-depth work-based learning experiences. These are varied as they allow for the different needs of students, the different natures of different careers and workplaces, and the different requirements and capacities of various partners.

As mentioned earlier, guest speakers are invited in to classrooms throughout the schools and across all grade levels. While Maine 207 has long been a worldwide leader in educational technology including being Google’s original school district partner for Google Apps (known today as Google Workplace), schools far-and-wide have become comfortable with online meetings and classes as a result of the pandemic. The increased access to technology and acceptance of remote meeting and learning tools has made engaging guest speakers with students easier than ever before. Additionally, these same tools allow even more students to benefit from a guest speaker than was previously the case as a result of being able to have more than 25-30 students in the “room” with the students and as a result of being able to record a session with a guest speaker and share it with students later.

Career Treks and Job Shadowing experiences provide more in-depth opportunities to interact with professionals and to see and understand workplaces. As the slides above from the Maine 207 Integrated Career Services Team remind:

  • These experiences can take advantage of other already-established programs, such as Junior Achievement.
  • These experiences can and should take place in businesses, but they can and should also take place in other organizations, including other governmental agencies and in our own school districts. (Many Illinois school districts have started job shadowing and internships with their own Operations, Information Technology, and Business Services staffs. Of course, many Illinois school districts also do not have one or more of these key areas in-house as standalone departments due to either their size or available resources.)

Maine Township High School District 207 offers students both formal and informal internship opportunities. The formal internship is structured around a scheduled class period. In this scenario, the student and the school internship supervisor meet one period per week to check-in and discuss the internship. The informal internship does not include that scheduled class period and weekly check-in. There are a variety of options for when students actually participate in their internships, both during and beyond the school day, and these scenarios are based on both the student’s needs as well as the needs and parameters in place with the organization providing the internship. Maine 207 has approximately 450 students participating in formal internships, and there are additional students participating in informal internships. Between 5 and 15% of the internships have been paid internships.

For more information…

Maine Township High School District 207 Career Exploration website
The Maine 207 Career Exploration website provides up-to-date information on upcoming events as well as dashboards for students and parents, community partners, and staff members. Additionally, staff member information is available, including the opportunity to schedule meetings directly with the team members.

The Integrated Career Services Team at Maine East, Maine West, and Maine South High Schools also actively posts information on Instagram as another medium from which they can communicate with students in addition to the website, emails, and school announcements.

November 2020

Lake County Tech Campus – Creating a Team-Based Challenge

The Lake County Tech Campus provides a wide range of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to high school students from throughout Lake and McHenry Counties in Northeastern Illinois. Education is one of the many high quality career areas in which programming is offered at Tech Campus, with a team of three teachers who provide instruction for juniors and seniors in high school. These students, in turn and alongside their professional teachers, provide instruction and learning opportunities three days per week for early childhood students in the specifically designed early childhood classrooms at Tech Campus.

Team-Based Challenge-Career Pathway Endorsement SlideAs part of this work, the Education teacher team decided to incorporate Team-Based Challenges from the Illinois Career Pathway Endorsement model, and the P-20 Network team both facilitated the instructional planning and participated in this effort alongside the Education teachers. The Education teachers identified two potential real-life, complex problems of practice that they believed an in-depth Team-Based Challenge would help their high school students learn and solve and through which they could develop a deeper understanding as potential pre-service teachers. Together, we spent one entire “professional development day” building out the Team-Based Challenge.

First, we explored the key College & Career Pathway Competencies that would be taught and on which students would be assessed. Specifically, both the Essential Cross-Sector Employability Competencies as well as the Human and Public Services Career Pathway Competencies (which are currently defined through EDU-specific competencies) were studied and discussed. After examining all of these competencies, the teachers specifically identified the ones that would be best taught and assessed through the Team-Based Challenge.


Then, the teachers determined how they would assess each of these competencies as well as, through that discussion, beginning to plan instructional lessons and activities that would be embedded in the Team-Based Challenge.

Tech Campus Ed Teachers

Finally, using the Backwards Design Model of instructional planning, multiple assessments were fully built-out prior to the end of the professional development workday.

Ultimately, in one day, the teachers learned more about the Career Pathway Endorsements, identified the competencies that would be taught and assessed, created those specific assessments, and outlined a two-week instructional unit that would serve as a Team-Based Challenge.

For more information about Career Pathway Endorsements or to reach about arranging for professional development and planning support around the Career Pathway Endorsements and Team-Based Challenges, please contact either Brooke ( or Jason ( at the P-20 Network.

Early Childhood Classroom 1

March 2020

Focusing on Career Pathways with an emphasis on individual students’ plans

Belvidere School District 100 has been focused on putting each piece in place to support students’ engagement with the College and Career Pathways.

One of the early key steps in this work was exploring the “crosswalk” (pictured below) between the Postsecondary and Career Expectations Framework (PaCE), the Illinois State Board of Education’s College and Career Readiness Indicators (CCRI), and the College and Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE) outlined by the Postsecondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act.

PaCE-CCRI-CCPE Framework Crosswalk
PaCE-CCRI-CCPE Framework Crosswalk (Click to enlarge)

Belvidere School District 100 knew that they wanted to support student learning and exploration with the Career Pathways and to ensure that students had the requisite knowledge and skills to be successful beyond high school – in postsecondary education and in the workforce. Nik Butenhoff, Director of Career Readiness, said the the framework crosswalk, “supported the hunch that we had. This was the evidence that if we have to track the College and Career Readiness Indicator (for the State), if we just go all-in for the Endorsements, we will then land on the work that we needed to support the Indicators.”

Nik goes on to point out that this work is central to the efforts of teachers and administrators in Belvidere to improve learning, “The stuff that the State is giving us; this is good. These frameworks show how its all intertwined with each other. It is not separate initiatives, but it’s all connected.”

Belvidere School District 100 has developed its own graphic to show the importance of individual planning with each student. The State’s College and Career Pathway Endorsement graphic, which is linked above, also places individual planning at the top of the framework, but the Belvidere viewpoint is to stress it even further as pictured below with the “Individualized Plan” section wrapping around each of the key components.

Belvidere 100 - Career Pathway Endorsement Graphic

In addition to this, students are asked to be thinking about their College and Career Pathway in a number of different ways. One small, easy, yet very powerful, example of this is on student’s Course Selection Form (pictured below). As student’s consider what courses they are requesting for the following school year, they are also asked to think about their desired College and Career Pathway Endorsement area.

Belvidere 100 - Course Selection Sheet with Endorsement Area
Belvidere 100 – Course Selection Sheet with Endorsement Area

In addition to these strategies, the posters pictured with this post are up in the high schools and the middle schools to help students consider the Pathways as they move through the day, and the District 100 Career Guide is offered to students and families in both English and Spanish.

Possibly the most important component in helping make the College and Career Pathways begin to come alive for high school students in District 100 is that all ninth graders are required to complete a Freshman Careers Course, during which a wide range of career exploration and skill-building activities take place.

January 2020

Career Pathways Endorsement – Mapping out the course sequence well in advance in Naperville 203

While the Class of 2020 is the first group of students in the State of Illinois that can earn Career Pathway Endorsements, data gathered across the P-20 Networks suggests that very few students will earn Career Pathway Endorsements this coming spring. At the same time, many school districts are deeply engaged in providing career-focused experiences for students and working toward the full implementation of Career Pathway Endorsements with the following critical elements:

  • a sequence of courses aligned to the Career Pathway Endorsement including courses that will offer the possibility of at least 6 hours of postsecondary credit (Dual Credit or Advanced Placement)
  • a minimum of 2 Team-Based Challenges that students can experience either through instruction in the aforementioned courses or through extra-curricular activities or other outside experiences
  • an in-depth work-based learning experience of a minimum of 60 hours (or 2 micro-internships of at least 30 hours each)

Though, like most school districts, Naperville Community Unit School District 203 does not plan on having students graduate with Career Pathway Endorsements for a few years, the District has already mapped out course sequences for Career Pathway Endorsements. Pictured below is a bulletin board in a hall at Naperville Central High School that outlines two different course sequences for students to work toward an Career Pathway Endorsement in Information Technology.

Naperville 203 - IT Career Pathway Endorsements Career Sequences

While educators in Naperville continue to build out other critical elements of the Career Pathway Endorsement, from the outset of their high school experience, students can be inspired by and begin to plan to participate in one of these entire course sequences.

There are a few important lessons from this:

  1. It’s not too early to plan out course sequences, which can be done at any time, even if you are not able to fully implement the course sequence this year.
  2. Planning a course sequence early can result in being better able to prepare facilities, equipment and supplies, and professional development well in advance.
  3. Once a course sequence is planned, it can be shared widely with students and families in order to help them both develop a general awareness of Career Pathway Endorsements and to be able to consider specific course sequences as students are selecting courses (and “trying on” different career ideas).
November 2019

Hinckley-Big Rock – #AuthenticLearning with Agriculture and Beyond

Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429 is situated in the countryside between Aurora and DeKalb, Illinois. Hinckley-Big Rock has been a leader statewide in building a strong foundation for all students with career readiness and postsecondary options through its implementation of the HBR Career Readiness Plan. This plan, which builds skills and experiences for students from elementary school through high school, was developed within the school district and is based on the Illinois Postsecondary and Career Expectations (PaCE) Framework.

Not only has Hinckley-Big Rock invested a great deal of time and energy in ensuring that students have experiences and skills to help them make choices about careers and postsecondary learning, but Hinckley-Big Rock also seeks to provide students with authentic learning experiences in which their “classwork” is “real work”. While this is desired across the curriculum and all courses, these efforts are most noticeable within the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career Pathway.

Hinckley - Big Rock Future Farmers of America Wagon

Like many school districts in Illinois, Hinckley-Big Rock has a rich history with providing students with authentic learning experiences through extra-curricular activities. With the understanding that such experiences can lead to deeper, more complex and longer lasting learning, ensuring that students learn through authentic problem-based units and lessons is a priority. Hinckley-Big Rock is furthering these efforts with a multi-year initiative to take advantage of the size of its property and expand the resources available for student learning on the working farm on the east side of the high school building.

Over the past couple of years, a small orchard has been planted and water and electrical have been added and/or upgraded. Next, a building will be added to support the fully functional agricultural operations in which students participate as part of their coursework and learning.Hinckley - Big Rock Water Pump - Outdoor Agriculture Classroom

Being able to fully experience the work allows students to learn both career-specific knowledge and skills as well as develop the type of skills that are needed across careers as defined by the Cross-Sector Essential Employability Competencies (see page 6 of this PDF).

These efforts are not limited to just agriculture nor Career & Technical Education (CTE) courses at Hinckley-Big Rock, but they are also noticeable outside the building as Indian Valley Vocational Center CTE students also construct the actual dug-outs that generations of student-athletes will use for decades to come.

Hinckley - Big Rock Dugout Construction Tweet

October 2019

Rochelle – Mapping out success for the future during high school

Like other schools, Rochelle Township High School District 212 has embarked on a focus to ensure that all of its students are thinking forward beyond high school while they are still in high school. This effort is focused both on helping ensure that students know, understand, and have a variety of postsecondary options while also participating in significant and ongoing planning and counseling during high school.

At Rochelle High School, which is located about 20 miles directly west of DeKalb, Illinois, a series of key indicators for future success have been identified, and together these have been termed the Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile (pictured here below).

Rochelle Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile - Cover
Rochelle Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile – Cover

Rochelle Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile - Interior
Rochelle Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile – Interior

Following each semester, student information in the Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile is updated by school staff and shared with all students and parents. This ongoing education allows students and parents to keep up-to-date on their progress, and it has the secondary benefit of making the Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile a living tool in the lives of students and families.

Many schools and school districts are embracing the creation of a holistic view of a student that includes learning critical skills that go beyond traditional academics. For example, one way that these are now defined in Illinois as a result of the Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness Act is through both the Cross-Sector Essential Employability Competencies and the Entrepreneurial Competencies (see page 6 of this document). Rochelle has included these skills that are so critical for both careers and citizenship as the Efficient, Adaptive, and Self-Reliant Learner Behaviors. Where Rochelle goes one step further is by having teachers assess students in each of these areas and, most importantly, asking students to self-assess in each of these areas.

Alongside what courses a student has taken and their personal and career interests, the Tomorrow Readiness Student Profile provides a strong foundation on which students and their families, counselors, and teachers can engage in detailed discussions about both an individual student’s strengths as well as the target areas for additional growth during their high school experience and beyond.

October 2019