By Sarah Beauchemin
Students at The O’Farrell Charter School are always encouraged to think big.
As an AVID  Schoolwide Site of Distinction – a school demonstrating the highest level of excellence in instruction and promotion of college readiness – OCS believes in providing academic and social support that will allow its students to forge a strong path to success.
One way the school does this is through its comprehensive Career Development program. It ensures students gain important “real world” insight into success through a variety of events like field trips, guest speakers and on-site career fairs.
Opportunities like this are particularly critical because they help the underrepresented students at OCS break down social and economic barriers when it comes to career access.
“All of our students are focused on their future and have big dreams and goals,” said Katy Leenerts, OCS high school instructor and Career Development Coordinator. “By getting a chance to put a face with a profession, and talking to that person, it provides our students with another resource or guide to help support them in their journey.”
Branching Out Into the Working World
Field trips are one way that OCS helps its high school students connect with San Diego leaders in a variety of different industries.
At the start of the school year, students are polled to determine which careers they most want to learn about. They are all required to participate in at least two Career Development events or presentations during the school year, so their input matters.
“Student choice is really important in a lot of our planning for this program because we know that if there is student interest, there will be student buy-in and enthusiasm,” said Leenerts.
One of the most popular field trips this year was to The Control Group – a dynamic tech company that builds web applications and tests data for marketing campaigns. OCS seniors toured the offices, then spoke at length with staff about how it all works.
“Field trips give students a chance to see what the expectations are for the workplace,” said Leenerts. “They learn how to build their networking skills and interact with people in a real way. It also makes the transition to adulthood less intimidating for our kids when they can feel comfortable in a work environment that is made for adults.”
There are other great career-readiness field trips for OCS seniors. One is going to Junior Achievement’s Finance Park Simulation – a paperless, high-tech learning center that helps students imagine their future by learning how to make intelligent financial decisions that will last a lifetime.
Another is the OCS Senior Symposium at LPL Financial. OCS seniors are partnered with mentors (LPL employees) who give feedback on resumes, guidance with post-graduation financial choices and lessons on resilience.
These opportunities are centered around what steps students must take to ready for the future – academically, financially and emotionally.
Connecting with San Diego Industry Leaders
Back on campus, OCS invites guest speakers to the seniors’ Career Development class to share information about their chosen career – the required education, experiences on the job and opportunities for growth.
OCS also hosts an on-site networking event where students can meet with career professionals to work on simple networking skills like practicing handshakes, making eye contact and learning how to carry a conversation in a professional manner.
Finally, OCS conducts two Career Day fairs every spring – one for its high schoolers and one for its elementary school students.
“We prepare all of our students for a university education,” said Susan Cuttitta, OCS high school Vice Principal and Career Day Coordinator. “Our goal for the career fairs is to provide our students with exposure to diverse careers and professions, and the educational pathways needed to obtain such careers.”
Both Career Days feature around 25 different careers ranging from cutting-edge tech careers to more traditional occupations like law enforcement, attorneys and medical professionals. Whenever possible, OCS seeks to diversify its presenters in terms of age, gender and race so that students may see a broad representation of professionals.
“By giving these opportunities to our students, they’re able to establish professional connections with the people who have come to share their stories with them,” said Leenerts. “Many of our students’ families may not have access to the areas or professions that our students aspire to be a part of one day. By bringing it to our students, we break the access barrier.”
For more information on how OCS prepares students for college and careers, please visit us online.