School isn’t just about studying hard and getting good grades. It’s also about helping students apply their diligent efforts to their future careers and – most importantly – identify what those careers might be.

This is a top priority at The O’Farrell Charter School (OCS), where the staff has cultivated a variety of hands-on opportunities for students to explore career options and find their passion.

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One of the most anticipated occasions for this is OCS’s annual Career Day, which just took place in February in the brand-new OCS high school gymnasium. Students attend Career Day by grade, each grade level being granted about 30 minutes to interact with the professionals.

Career Day features more than 25 professionals in a variety of fields that require a college degree. Among the professionals at this year’s Career Day were a doctor, aerospace engineer, forensic scientist, psychologist, finance manager, foreign service officer from the US Department of State, police officers, and insurance brokers.

Photo courtesy of O'Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School

Getting an inside look from the professionals

Throughout the day, professionals talk openly about different aspects of their careers such as the pros and cons, the necessary academic requirements, and their personal reasons for choosing their career. They also answer the students’ questions and clear up any misconceptions they may have. This gives OCS students tremendous insight and perspective when considering their own career paths, helping them to really consider what job speaks to them.

“We make sure the students are well prepared ahead of time to meet with the Career Day professionals in two distinct ways,” said Susan Cuttitta, OCS Program Coordinator and coordinator of Career Day. First, Cuttitta has all students complete a personality quiz. This helps them identify possible career options that align well with their personality traits and characteristics.

She then gives them a list of questions to ask the professionals. “For many of our students, Career Day is their first opportunity to engage with adults aside from their teachers and parents,” said Cuttitta. “It can be very nerve-wracking. So I ask them to review the list of questions ahead of time and pick out a few that they really want to ask. This includes anything from ‘What drew you to this career?’ to ‘What recommendations would you give me if I’m interested in entering your field?’ It raises the students’ confidence and helps them to stay focused when speaking with the various presenters.”

Cuttitta’s preparation efforts paid off very well – students of all ages interacted with the professionals calmly and with piqued interest. “I watched them engage with the guests in such a professional manner,” said Andrea Shaw, fifth grade teacher at OCS. “They introduced themselves by shaking hands and stating their full name and grade level. They asked thoughtful questions and took time to process the answers.”

Photo courtesy of O'Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School

Readying students to shape their own careers

It’s crucial to note that the success of Career Day at OCS is in large part due to the school’s demanding curriculum throughout the school year, which is centered around college readiness. Students are already heavily focused on the career paths that their work in college will ultimately forge for them.

“Since the end goal for all of our students here at OCS is to attend college, we’re always thinking of the best ways to prepare them for excelling at the actual careers that their degrees will provide,” said Aimee Alexander, OCS career development program coordinator and instructor.

In addition to writing the intensive career development curriculum for OCS high schoolers and teaching its three-hour classes, Alexander also serves as the OCS liaison with the San Diego community’s professionals and speakers. These important relationships with community members are what give OCS students career-shaping opportunities throughout the school year.

“Our career development activities are pretty dynamic,” said Alexander. “We understand that OCS students have different learning types and interests, so we try to mix up our events so that they don’t get stagnant.”

Photo courtesy of O'Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School
Photo courtesy of O’Farrell Charter School

For example, OCS has guest speakers come to campus regularly – from numerous disciplines – to speak to the high schoolers in informal Q&A sessions. The school also hosts an annual networking “meet and greet” event where high school students dress up, shake hands, and share their own post-high school plans with professionals. Such interaction teaches them critical social and communication skills for the workplace. OCS also offers opportunities for off-campus job shadowing, where students are fitted with professional mentors in the community to experience what their job is like for a day.

Last but certainly not least, the OCS counseling team plays an integral role in helping students find their passion and imbuing them with the skills to excel in their careers. “We have an absolutely phenomenal counseling team here,” said Alexander. “They literally walk the students through the ins and outs of college admissions and finances. They hold career workshops for the kids and college preparation workshops for the parents. Our counselors work tirelessly to help students pick a career that works for each of them academically, logistically, and financially.”

 The O’Farrell Charter School is a San Diego public charter school serving students in grades TK-12.

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