At Jefferson-Morgan, schools and the community connect — and students reap the benefits

This story is one in a series created in collaboration with the AASA Learning 2025 Alliance to celebrate the work of groundbreaking school districts in the Pittsburgh region. Kidsburgh will share these stories throughout 2023.   

Kaileigh Coneybeer loved her marketing class at Jefferson-Morgan High School. Sitting at her desk in the spring of 2021, she could picture herself working on marketing campaigns as an adult. 

Hungry to learn more as the school year was ending, she asked her teacher, Jodi Fulks, if there were more marketing classes available. 

A small district, Jefferson-Morgan had only one high school marketing class. But the district’s size is an unexpected advantage. Because what Jefferson-Morgan does have — and is increasingly leveraging — are deep community connections and a commitment to helping students explore career paths that are calling their names.

Though another class wasn’t an option, Coneybeer had come to the right place. The resourceful Fulks — dubbed a “Swiss Army knife” by district superintendent Brandon Robinson — began reaching out: Which local businesses needed a marketing intern? 

The Corner Cupboard food bank wanted help and they were willing to offer training (“This isn’t free labor,” Fulks points out. “It’s a learning experience.”). Soon Coneybeer was thriving in an internship.

Some aspects of this work are new. The team at Jefferson-Morgan is still building their system for arranging internships, and designing a menu of career pathways to guide students through targeted classes and job-shadowing. 

And as the district participates in the Western Pennsylvania Learning 2025 Alliance, a regional cohort of school districts working to create student-centered, equity-focused, future-driven schools, they’re constantly innovating. Led by superintendents including Robinson and by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, the Alliance convenes for workshops, networking, and professional development.

But many aspects of this work are grounded in what Jefferson-Morgan has always been, says Robinson. 

“Our high school principal could stand in the hallway and name all the kids,” Robinson says. “The same with the elementary principal. He’s been here for 20 years. He knows the kids, their parents, where they live. Our motto is ‘whatever it takes’, and basically that’s what we’re doing — whatever it takes to help them succeed.”


“If you watch a senior walk down the hallway and the teachers are there, at least three of them will stop that kid and ask, ‘What are you doing after graduation?’’ Robinson says. “We ask ‘what’s next, what’s next,’ just to get that in their minds. Like, let’s not have a plan and then wait until August to do it. Don’t wait until you walk out the doors.” 

The career conversation begins long before senior year. Revamped graduation requirements let students take more career-focused classes while still meeting state mandates. In career exploration class, students learn about the training that different careers require — and how they might finance their tuition. 

Superintendent Brandon Robinson with an elementary student. All photos courtesy of Jefferson-Morgan S.D.

“Our biggest goal overall is that kids don’t just float through high school,” Robinson says. “We want to help them take courses that are relevant to what they want to do in the future.”

As this work grows at Jefferson-Morgan, Fulks is always glad when a student returns from a day of job shadowing feeling fired up about a potential career. But she’s also glad when they discover the opposite. 

“We had one student who was dead set on working in the medical field. And I’m like, ‘Okay, you need to go job shadow,’” Fulks says. “He came back. He said, ‘I actually hated it.’ And thank God he did that, because he didn’t know and he was a senior. And I’m like, ‘See, aren’t you glad you didn’t go to college for that and spend all that money and then change your mind when you actually got to see it in action?’” 

It also helps the community when students discover careers they can pursue locally.

Students interested in teaching have begun internships at Jefferson-Morgan’s elementary school. (Another bonus of being such a small district: With just two buildings on one campus, high schoolers can easily visit the elementary building during the school day.) 

Internships also help students and their parents see career opportunities they hadn’t envisioned. At a wrestling match last fall, Robinson ran into a mother who was puzzling over her son’s future plans. 

“She said, ‘Brandon, he wants to be a barber. I want him to go to college and he wants to be a barber.’ I said, ‘Well, I go to a barber and he makes a pretty good living. I think you should maybe let him do an internship.’ She said, `What’s that?’” 

The student is now interning at a local barbershop. It took some arranging; he’ll miss chemistry class two days a week. But at Jefferson-Morgan, that  wasn’t hard to coordinate. The chemistry teacher is on board and has offered to tutor the student. Fulks is serving as his internship mentor.

“That’s the main goal of these pathways,” says Assistant Principal Michael Hildreth. “We expose our children to the community and expose the community to our children. If the community leaders know our students and their interests, and they’ve worked with them in high school, then those students can go right into our local economy. And if students do go off to college, they can come back with a degree and get good jobs right here.”

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