A “Designing Your Future” course is helping secondary students from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board take control of their future.
The Grade 11 open career planning course is part of a Pathseekers’ Program run out of the Hamilton General Hospital this summer to help students in challenging situations overcome barriers to education and explore non-traditional pathways to postsecondary education and work.
The program allows students to earn a high school credit in a unique way, said Teacher Paul Taylor. Participating students attended a meeting last April with both HWCDSB and Hamilton Health Sciences staff to co-design a guidance and career education course which incorporated their preferred learning experiences around non-traditional classroom learning and one-on-one relationships. The focus was application of classroom learning into authentic and varied work experiences.
The outcome was a highly interactive program that took students outside of the classroom into real world settings with professionals who work in the healthcare field. Offered over three weeks from July 3 to July 20, the course exposed students to various work opportunities beyond health care at Hamilton Health Sciences.
The idea for the course stemmed from a conversation between Toni Kovach, Superintendent of Education at HWCDSB and John Parker, Director of Interprofessional Education at Hamilton Health Sciences – both members of Hamilton’s Homeless Youth Strategy – on ways to increase awareness of employment opportunities at HHS, and to keep kids in school.
Said Kovach, “If students graduate, there are wonderful employment opportunities in various fields immediately following secondary school available to young people. Students tend to believe that every hospital job is in health care and requires post-secondary education.”
In addition to physiotherapy, nursing, occupational therapy, social work and library services, students also experienced security, safety specialist, information technology, medical device reprocessing, maintenance, and kitchen services, as well as many other roles.
“The goal,” said Parker, “is to expand the students’ understanding of entry level opportunities in health care as a way to lead to a living wage and independence.”
“For very little effort, the program can have a potentially huge impact.”
The daily routine included career planning lessons taught by Taylor, and a variety of experiential learning activities including customer service and First Aid training, mentoring sessions, job shadowing, tours and a speakers series which covered the scope of hospital operations, from Information Technology, Engineering, Diagnostic Imaging, Nursing and Kinesiology to Dietetic Education, Library, Child & Youth Services, Safety and Infection Control.
“The curriculum also lends itself to the kids discovering jobs so rather than having them use the internet to explore pathways, we’ve had them do it with the people that they’re meeting,” said Taylor.
He added that more important than the jobs were the stories of challenge and non-traditional pathways that the individuals encountered along the way.
“It’s reassuring. It’s telling the students it’s ok, you don’t have to pick a path at 18,” said Taylor.
Manager of Student Affairs & Academic Relations Dianne Norman, who works closely with schools in providing experiential learning experiences for students at Hamilton Health Sciences, added that it’s these real, authentic stories that resonate the most with the students.
“Hearing that you can overcome and you don’t have to take a direct pathway really helps students envision their own pathway.”
“Very few people have a traditional pathway,” she added. “There isn’t this road well-travelled.”
She explained that the range of experiences is designed to expose students to career options in health care that they may not have known about or considered.
“There’s this impression that hospitals are just about doctors and nurses, and they don’t know about the breadth.”
Exposure to different career paths not only helps students hone in on what they want to do, but also what they don’t want to do. That’s important, too, said Norman.
“You don’t want to spend time going down an avenue that’s not yours.”
What the program does is allow students to make informed decisions about their education and career path, explained Taylor.
The program proved to be a gamechanger for Alyssa Skirving who before the program thought about becoming an Early Childhood Educator. However, after an afternoon of job shadowing in rehab therapy, the Grade 11 Cardinal Newman student is considering other options.
“The program has opened my eyes to so many job possibilities in health care that I didn’t know existed.”
Ashley Keeping, meanwhile, signed up for the program thinking it would be an easy credit. Inspired by the experience, she now plans to enrol at Mohawk College for social work so she can help kids, like her, in foster care.
“It’s never been about making a lot of money for me,” said the Grade 12 St. Jean de Brébeuf student. “It’s about making a difference.”
The students’ dreams and aspirations were shared at a wrap up ceremony on July 20 attended by officials from the school board and Hamilton Health Sciences.
Marvelling at the students’ openness to new opportunities, Superintendent of Education Toni Kovach noted, “That’s what we need to do as educators: to ensure that you have positive experiences in school and opportunities so you can reach your fulfillment to be what you are called to be.”
Citing St. Francis of Assisi who said, “First start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, soon you’ll be doing the impossible,” Kovach assured the students, “You’re already on your way.”
Drawing parallels between the Pathseekers’ program and the mission of the board, Chairperson Patrick Daly suggested that, at their core, “it’s about bringing hope, true hope, to young people.”
“The title of the program, ‘Pathseekers’ is so appropriate and I think we all understand what we are called to be. In our Catholic vision, we call that vocation.”
“Vocation is where one’s greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need,” he quoted.
“My prayer for all of you is that with the assistance of this program, your own strength, and others that come into your lives, you’re able to realize that path in your life, which not only brings your greatest joy, but indeed, help meet the world’s greatest need.”