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Career development initiatives for children in kindergarten to Grade 6 in the mid 1980's were given less emphasis as a formalized program in our school systems. This was the result of schools focusing on core subject instruction and the view that altering this emphasis would be detrimental to core competency development. However, in 1989, the National Occupational Information Coordinating Committee (NOICC) initiated four publications that focused on the importance of early career development education and provided guidance on implementation within our schools. This recognition of the importance of an early career development curriculum resulted with Congress passing the School to Work Opportunities Act (STW) in 1994 which required schools to relate concepts being taught in the classroom to career planning and development. More recently, The National Career Development Guidelines (NCDG) initiatives have made efforts to revitalize career development programs in some public education systems curriculums across the nation. These NCDG initiatives provide key areas of career counseling specifically: 1. Self Knowledge, 2. Educational and Occupational Exploration, and 3. Career Planning (Zunker, pp.394). These concepts help to direct curriculum development and guide schools in the creation of programs that focus on early childhood career development.
To foster a program that integrates career development with classroom curriculum requires coordination of counselors working closely with classroom teachers. The basis of these programs can either be theoretical or rational, or a combination of both (Herr and Cramer, 1996, as cited in Brown, 2003, pp. 310).
To demonstrate the theorist approach, theorists like Donald Super and Linda Gottfredson both believe that an important role in childhood career development is being able to understand one's self concept. Zunker states, "elementary students are formulating sets of self concepts as they focus on class requirements; interrelationships with peers, teachers, and important adults; and the social structure in which they live and function." Through these interactions, explorations and experiences, students are able to develop their own sense of personality, interests, abilities, and values which will later influence vocational decision making. As counselors develop students' self concept, and knowledge of occupational information, students are clearly directed towards their occupational interests.
Programs can also be created on the basis of the rational/empirical data approach. In this instance, students explore the skills and attitudes of various occupations. Programs are then created to have students to obtain those desired competencies. As a result, students are able to develop the skills necessary to succeed in their journey towards their chosen profession.
Although many programs elicit the rational/empirical approach when creating career development programs, almost all programs tend to fuse the two approaches with objectives focusing on the development of students' self concept, awareness of interests, work values, and aptitude, (Brown, 310). Through combining students' self concepts (interests, abilities and values) with the skills and aptitudes necessary for specific occupations, students are more readily prepared for their future occupational choices.
In addition to infusing theory with rationality, counselors must keep in mind the diversity of their students and community. Different types of students will need different types of career development programs. Data can be obtained through demographic information of the school, test scores of students, annual drop out rates and surveys of parents, teachers, and the community (Brown, pp. 311).
A prime example is illustrated by the school that I currently teach at. In my school district, there are low percentages of students who graduate from high school and go on to higher levels of post high school education. As a result of these findings, every year, our fourth grade teachers coordinate a field trip for students to visit the University of Hawaii at Manoa. During these visits, students are exposed to the university's campus and are able to see the kinds of courses and majors that are available. Based on activities like this field trip and other experiences that explore other career opportunities, students are able to broaden their horizons for future career choices and believe that these goals are achievable. In contrast, another school that has opposite post high school graduation data may choose alternate activities that may be better suited for their school population. Such activities may include representatives from mainland schools visiting to discuss their future options/goals, SAT prep courses, etc.
Classroom teachers will explain that there is never enough time in the day to cover all the concepts that students need to know. Therefore, there is a need for integration between core classroom instruction and career development, (Zunker, pp. 395). Through collaboration between counselors and teachers, lessons plans can be developed such that they are developmentally appropriate while addressing career-related competencies and creating career awareness within students.
A key focus that teachers and counselors must be mindful of is gender-role stereotyping. Sharf explains, "by providing information free of gender-role bias, educational systems are more likely to provide an atmosphere in which wide varieties of interests can develop, regardless of gender." A study by Hageman and Gladding in 1983, studied the attitudes of third and sixth grade students, and found that stereotyping increased as youngsters advanced in school and that a majority of girls at both grade levels did not feel free to pursue nontraditional careers (as cited in Brown, 2003, pp. 324). Career development in elementary school should focus on the exploration of careers through role models, and non biased information where both sexes can be seen in positions of non-traditional roles.
Additionally, family members, primarily parents, play a substantial role in influencing the thoughts and actions of children. Children see their parents as role models, therefore, their view and ambitions may affect the way a child views the world or the way they view specific occupations. Parental bias can influence a child's perception based on their parent's negative/positive views in discussing his/her job. This is especially problematic since elementary aged children are not mature enough to understand that with all jobs, there are positive aspects and negative aspects that make up an occupation. On the other hand, if a child hears only the positive aspects of their parents' work, they may believe that their parents' job is the best job in the world. "Study after study has consistently shown that parents exercise more influence than any other adults on the eventual educational and vocational choice of children," (Brown, pp. 332).
In summary the importance and benefit of integrating an early childhood career development program within the curriculum is essential to a well rounded educational program. A successful program requires a commitment to support collaboration among all educators from administrators, teachers, counselors, parents, community members and businesses. Curriculum needs to be well defined in integrating career development activities and incorporate lessons that are supported by both classroom teachers, families of students, and counselors. Most importantly, these initiatives must take into account students' self concept, personal preferences and skill levels, while not creating stereotypes and biases. The positive results will be in providing a strong foundation of experiences such that each student can define his/her own choices of future careers while believing that those careers are attainable.