Reaching for the STARS: Students Choose a Life Path
A unique program in Portland, Oregon, gives students a jump-start on their future.
Orienting students towards careers as early as possible is one of the goals of Project STARS (Students Taking Authentic Routes to Success), David Douglas High School's nationally recognized school-to-career program.
The high school serves more than 1,800 students in Portland, Oregon. "We launched the program in response to a survey showing that a large percentage of our students went straight to the workplace after high school," says Marybeth Stiner, who has worked closely with the program since it began in 1991. She adds, "Now our students are prepared both for college and the world of work."
Eighth-grade students bound for David Douglas make an initial choice of one of seven career areas that interests them -- Social & Human Services, Health Sciences, Business & Management, Industrial & Engineering Systems, Natural Resources, Arts & Communications, or Hospitality, Tourism, & Recreation.
In a two-part course developed in collaboration with business partners, all ninth- and tenth-grade students explore careers in each of the areas. The courses supplement class projects on employment skills and self-assessment with workplace experiences, such as company tours and spending a day with a professional on the job.
Intensive consultation with six full-time counselors helps students choose a career area for in-depth exploration by the end of the tenth grade. In both eleventh and twelfth grades, students learn more about their chosen field in a yearlong course focusing on the career area and pursue their own specific interests through several elective courses. Extended class periods of ninety minutes allow greater flexibility for students to run school-based enterprises and participate in work experiences with the school's business partners. For example, Business & Management students run a store and a bank at the school. Industrial & Engineering students have designed a light rail system to connect the high school's two campuses.
One factor contributing to the success of Project STARS is its membership in a regional school-to-career system. School-to-career coordinators from all area high schools work closely to share resources and avoid duplication of efforts. One result is a computerized School-to-Work Information System, a database of all local organizations offering workplace opportunities and classroom speakers for area schools.
Participation in Project STARS means David Douglas' students will be among the first in Oregon to earn a Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM), signifying proficiency in a major field of study. The CAM is one in a series of reforms in Oregon's statewide initiative, the Educational Act for the 21st Century.