By Jamie Grimm
Sex ed. It's a popular topic in our society with strong opinions on what, where, and when it should be taught to young people. Most of the voices in these conversations are from adults. Rarely do we hear from the population that is most impacted by the decisions we make. In the fall of 2021, we decided to change this problem and develop a class for high school students to help us revise their sexual health education curriculum. This post will share the successes and challenges of utilizing students to help lead the work of revising curriculum at a district level.
With the help of counselors, SELS, schedulers, and science teachers, we recruited thirteen students from five high schools to participate in the Healthy Decision Making Leadership course. The course was run through Jeffco Virtual Academy as a .5 Leadership elective. Students met every other week in the evening with the Health Science Coordinator (the subsequent author of the unit), and Jaime Brenner, a social and emotional learning specialist from Alameda International Jr/Sr High School. The students had work outside of class that they had to complete each week as well.
Representation of student voices is incredibly meaningful. However, in order for students to have an impactful presence, they first needed to understand that curriculum is developed through the use of state standards, and in our case, state law. Having this background information and understanding helped students to better create validity to their revision suggestions.
Once students had a better understanding of what needed to be taught within sexual health education, their next hurdle was to develop student-centered activities to address the content. Through the use of student and teacher surveys, focus groups, and their own lived experiences, the students created and or revised existing activities that were relevant to their lives. Each of the ten lessons within the curriculum has a student-centered activity that was either created or revised by the students. This was the major focus of the course and took the most amount of time.
As most can imagine, bringing together students from different high schools, backgrounds, and experiences to revise a sexual health education curriculum can be, initially, really awkward! During the first couple of group meetings there was a lot of silence from the students and probing from the instructors. However, through team building exercises, laughter, and small group discussions, the students really emerged from their shells. The result was a group of students that knew their classmates were respectful, trustworthy, kind, and fierce advocates for the work.
Not only did we have a group of students that became leaders in the work, but we now have a curriculum that is incredibly student-centered, culturally relevant, and meaningful for the population that we seek to educate.
With any new endeavor there will be unanticipated setbacks. As most educators, we envision a lesson or training to go exactly how we have planned, only to realize that the best laid plans often go awry. The two biggest challenges I had was holding students accountable for their work outside of class, and being okay with changing my original expectations about what I wanted to accomplish during the course. If I was to host this course again, I would develop a better system for students to check-in with me about their progress. I think this would hold them more accountable, but also allow me to build better relationships with the students on an individual basis. Some of our students were not always comfortable sharing their opinions during whole group discussions, but when they were in a small group or one-on-one situation, they had a lot more to say.
I quickly learned that students in this class were way more involved in the work if it was through whole group or small group discussions. This was not what I had planned for each of my lessons! Therefore, in the future I would definitely build in more time for collaboration and group discussions. After a couple years of quiet students on a Zoom screen, the in-person group discussions were a very welcomed change!
Young people are incredibly knowledgeable and motivated to become agents of change. We must not use them merely as an act of tokenism, but rather a group of individuals with the foresight to recognize the challenges they will face in their present and future lives.
My last piece of advice for anyone who chooses to involve students in curriculum revisions/developments is to “feed them”. Feed them food each time you meet (quite literally…they’re always hungry) and feed them opportunities to be impactful within their community!
By Sheri Bryant
Did you hear the buzz about the fall semester Career Expo? Wondering how 1300 students, 120 industry professionals, 80 educators and 30 volunteers made that happen? These connections continue well after the event! Meet the Work-Based Learning Team, Jeffco Career Links! With one administrator and two specialists, we provide those services to a district of 80,000+ students, with a primary focus in the secondary levels.
But let’s take a closer look at who really does that career-connected learning in Jeffco Public Schools. This collaborative effort started with a vision for students to have authentic engagement with community and industry professionals. Our team seeks out those key partners by elevating the work of teachers, administrators and counselors. Whether that is making a cold call, sending an introductory email or attending a community event or chamber of commerce meeting, we know that when educators and school staff open their minds to what is possible, that is where the true magic can begin. Think about students in classrooms who no longer have to “imagine you are a…”, because industry experts from throughout our community are giving their knowledge and expertise so students can hear first-hand about those career cluster opportunities in business, agriculture, energy and natural resources, STEM and IT, hospitality, human services and education, health sciences, criminal justice and public safety, and skilled trades and technical sciences. Work-based learning experiences can occur in all grade levels, whether it's a Kindergarten class learning about careers, a middle school STEM class designing a city planning project, or a senior English class engaging in interviews with designated industry experts. Work-based learning is for all!
Students can engage in everything from an informational interview, job shadow, mentorship, internship, CareerWise apprenticeship, and paid work experience or on the job training. This work is vital to assisting a student in answering that age old question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” or “When will I ever use this?” Because of work-based learning (WBL) engagement, students have multiple pathways for career options that can lead them directly into the workforce, military, or any amount of college and beyond.
Recent school-based and district WBL programming include Golden Senior English Industry Interviews, McLain Job Fair and Industry Days, Standley Lake Industry Interviews, District Wide Mentorship Fair, Arvada West Informational Interviews, Arvada Capstone Pitches, Green Mountain Capstone Pitches, Dakota Ridge STEM Engineering Fair and Capstone Presentations, and Career Explore Trainings with students from Chatfield, Bear Creek, Dakota Ridge and Wheat Ridge. Next on the radar for the Career Links team are Spring Job Fairs, mentorship supports for English & Math Capstones, and programming for both students and industry on developing and growing their WBL skills.
Looking for ways to connect with our team? Check out our Jeffco Career Links website at: https://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627965&pageId=6121129
We look forward to collaborating with you on how to begin the career-connected conversation in your classroom and beyond!
Growing and Aligning Middle School CTE Programs
By Kate Harris
Career and Technical Education (CTE) has gone through some major shifts in the last few years. These changes have occurred at the national, state, and local levels as leaders work to better support career exploration and preparation. Thanks to 5A funding Jeffco has been able to directly support middle school CTE programs and as a result middle school CTE programming has grown tremendously. Currently 24 middle schools have Middle School Combined Exploratory Programs supported by a total of 88 CTE credentialed teachers.
In addition to growing programs and credentialing teachers, 5A funds have been used to develop middle school competencies and purchase resources/equipment for programs that will support the implementation of the competencies. Using a variety of resources, but anchoring to Colorado’s Secondary Pathways, content area expert teachers and district level staff worked to create competencies for our middle school pathways/courses. The competencies are written in a scope and sequence format that teachers can use as a planning tool. Technical competencies, WBL opportunities, CTSO integration, and career exploration are all components of the scope and sequence teachers can utilize when planning for high quality CTE instruction. The creation of the scope and sequences prompted the question, “What resources are necessary to teach these competencies?” To answer this and support our growing programs the content teams curated “resource bundles” that directly support the implementation of the competencies within each CTE content. Then, teachers selected the bundle that would best support their program and the CTE department purchased the resources and equipment.
These new competencies and resources create consistency across middle school programs as well as directly aligning middle school standards to the high school curriculum and pathways.
Check out the HS and MS CTE Competencies:
Colorado’s Secondary Pathway Competencies
Jeffco’s Middle School CTE Competencies
Curriculum & Instruction