The Importance of Exploring Career Options Early On

Communities In Schools of Chicago
3 min readJun 21, 2023

By Katie Rankin, Communications Specialist, Communities In Schools of Chicago

What are your plans after you graduate?

It’s an anticipated (and sometimes dreaded) question for high school students. One that’s asked by family and strangers alike and one that can induce excitement or hesitancy.

Having plans after graduation is important. Research shows young people who develop postsecondary plans are more likely to succeed. Chicago Public Schools now has all students define their career goals and create plans — with support from their school counselors, teachers, and families — before they receive their high school diploma.

In order to create postsecondary plans, though, young people need to be exposed to a variety of career options even before they reach high school.

At Communities In Schools of Chicago, our team partners with 200 Chicago public schools and connects them with programs and resources they need to succeed. When partner schools listed their priorities for the 2022–23 school year, ‘career awareness’ ranked №4 — and it is consistently ranked high on the list, particularly among elementary schools.

Rishona Taylor, CIS’ College and Career Partnership Specialist, helps link community organizations who provide career education programs directly to interested schools. Rishona also works with community organizations and helps them tailor their resources to young people — through a channel that best fits school needs.

This school year, Rishona has helped connect career programs in several ways. She’s partnered with organizations who present their content before a live audience, those who have recorded videos or virtual talks, and those who have resources to share at a fair. According to Rishona, springtime — particularly the weeks after spring break — is a time when elementary schools are looking to host programs that expose students in the early grades to a variety of career options.

Career Day at Parkside Elementary

At Parkside Community Academy on the Far South Side, Rishona connected seven CIS of Chicago community partners to serve as speakers at the school’s Career Day. Parkside is in its first year of partnership with CIS of Chicago, and according to Rishona, the school has already connected 27 programs through CIS’ network of community partners this year.

Rishona attended Parkside’s Career Day event this spring and said she was struck by the students’ professionalism and engagement. At Parkside, the eighth graders managed the entire Career Day program, leading everything from the check-in table to escorting speakers around the school building. One CIS partner who presented at Parkside’s Career Day was Patricia (Pat) Powell, program manager and assessment coordinator for the Civic Leadership Foundation.

Pat visited three different classrooms and gave a presentation in the auditorium to the entire fifth grade class. She discussed with students her perspective as a nonprofit professional and spoke more broadly about civic engagement and what students can do at the school level to start actively engaging in their community. Pat was so impressed with Parkside students that she’s already brainstorming how to connect the Civic Leadership Foundation programs more deeply with the school.

Career Day at Armour Elementary

At Armour Elementary School on the South Side, the school counselor, Monica Balesh, collaborated with CIS School Partnership Specialist Clare Spaulding to connect programs to a two-day career fair — one day for grades 3–8 and one day for pre-K through second grade. Monica shared with Clare Armour Elementary’s interest in hosting career speakers that represented a variety of fields.

Clare shared this information with her colleague on the CIS team, Rishona, and together, they supported Armour Elementary’s needs by connecting a Southwest Airlines pilot and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers journalist with the school. The speakers engaged the youngest of students as they talked about their careers, Clare said, like explaining to a preschooler why airplanes don’t fall out of the sky.

By linking elementary schools with career awareness and education programs, CIS of Chicago is fulfilling needs that schools have identified, and we’re helping students envision a wide range of career options. More importantly, CIS of Chicago is helping students discover more about themselves so they can be better prepared to create career plans in high school, stay on the path to graduation, and achieve in school and life.

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Communities In Schools of Chicago

Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.