Remake Learning

Career Ready PA events connect kids with potential paths toward their futures

Photo above by Ben Filio for Remake Learning.

It’s fun to imagine what seeds were planted last spring in the minds of students across the state of Pennsylvania. During the month of May, thousands of students and families attended more than 100 Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge events as part of the Remake Learning Days Across America festival. 

Learning events encompassed a wide variety of potential careers, bringing kids up close to everything from agriculture (200 eighth-graders visited Pennwood Farms in Berlin, Pa., to hear from folks working in all aspects of agriculture during Somerset County Ag Day) to video game design (at Schell Games’ Open House, students from across the Commonwealth peppered the founders of this Pennsylvania-based gaming company about their career paths). 

And the experiences were as varied as the careers they showcased: Some students tackled hands-on, do-it-yourself projects, while others spoke with working adults about their careers and many others had their own work presented and critiqued during events like the virtual Creek Connections Student Research Symposium. 

By the time Remake Learning Days drew to a close on May 23, thousands of students had visited libraries, tech centers, museums, play spaces, community centers and events in person or at school, bringing them one step closer to discovering and pursuing their 21st-century career pathway.

HOW IT WORKED & WHY IT’S VALUABLE

Between Kindergarten and grade 11, Pennsylvania kids are required to collect “artifacts” for their career portfolio to measure their engagement in career readiness. Through this collection of meaningful experiences, the artifacts paint a picture of career interests, concepts, and employability skills each child has discovered as they progress through school.  By the time students graduate, the students have developed a career plan for postsecondary success.

To help students gather these artifacts, the state’s Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge points kids toward career-focused events during Remake Learning Days. After each event, kids complete an artifact survey on the Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge page, which is shared with their school so the child can earn a digital badge and career portfolio credit.  At the end of the festival, students receive a “real” sticker badge to show their success!

Beyond adding to their own portfolios, kids also have the fun of knowing they’re helping their school: The Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge awards a banner to schools that earn more than 100 artifacts (digital badges). 

This year 100 schools statewide participated in the Backpack Challenge. Top among the banner winners was Catasauqua Area Senior High School, which earned 244 artifacts. The school district is a Career Ready PA Coalition “champion” in many areas. 

Other schools that earned banners include Union City Elementary, Somerset Area Junior/Senior High School, Hope for Hyndman Charter School, Hasson Heights Elementary School, Grove City Middle School, and Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit’s Work Foundations+ school. 

Melanie Vognetz, a teacher at Work Foundations+, thanked the Career Ready team for creating these events. 

“We appreciate the opportunity to provide these career readiness activities to our students,” Vognetz said, because they help her students “gain awareness of vocational opportunities outside of their daily environments.” 

She also appreciated that “all presenters spoke on the importance of employability skills. It absolutely reinforced our career development curriculum.” 

What’s especially encouraging is that in many districts, even schools that didn’t qualify for the banner still drew students to the Backpack Challenge Remake Learning Days events, says Laura Fridirici, the state’s career readiness advisor.

Just one example: At Oil City Area School District, two schools earned banners. Students at Seventh Street Elementary earned 114 artifacts. At Hasson Heights Elementary, kids earned 138 artifacts. 

But beyond the schools with the highest numbers, Fridirici points out that while other schools in the Oil City district didn’t exceed 100 artifacts, students from those schools did attend some of the Career Ready PA events and took potentially meaningful steps toward their future careers.

Kids tinker with electronics at a Remake Learning Days event. Photo courtesy of Ben Filio.

BRINGING FAMILIES TOGETHER

BRINGING FAMILIES TOGETHER

Although the Career Ready program is focused on students, many of this year’s Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge events held before and during Remake Learning Days encouraged parents and students to learn together. 

Pittsburgh-area parent Kristan Allen took her 9-year-old daughter to two (2) virtual career-ready events – one focused on science and another focused on the arts. At these “Wonder With Us” events hosted by “When You Wonder You’re Learning” co-authors Gregg Behr and Ryan Rydzewski, Allen and her daughter had a chance to ask working artists and scientists about their careers. 

Allen serves as director of marketing and development at the Mentoring Partnership, so her work is focused on supporting children as they learn and grow. But when she read about the “Wonder With Us” events, she says, “I had more of my ‘parent hat’ on. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This seems like such a cool opportunity for my own kiddos.” 

Allen points out that many students are only familiar with the careers of their own parents and those in their immediate network. She sees a huge benefit in the ways the state’s Career Ready events give students a window into careers they might never have known they could pursue. 

At the “Wonder With Us” events, her daughter was able to talk with adults about the curiosity and interests that led them to their current careers. And these working artists and scientists made it clear that while they have thriving, successful careers today, they didn’t have all the answers when they began working. Instead, just like the students attending these Career Ready PA Backpack Challenge events, they had lots of questions. 

When grownups “can share how that influenced their continual quest for more information and their career path,” Allen says, that gives children permission to ask their own questions and pursue their own passions. That curiosity and determination will be especially important as today’s kids pursue their 21st-century careers. 

“As a parent and as someone that works in the community and youth support space, I so appreciate and value that,” she says. “Because I don’t want my kids to ever stop wondering.” 

Want to learn more about career preparation in Pennsylvania? Check out this story about Future Ready Centers that were on display during Remake Learning Days this year.