This summer, Polk Vision teamed up with Polk County Career Academies to host professional development training for Polk County Public Schools’ Middle School Counselors at the Bartow History Center. Photos courtesy of Polk Vision

A new initiative seeks to help Polk County students become more engaged in the college and career planning process prior to entering high school.

This summer, Polk Vision — the county’s leading collective impact organization, which also serves as Polk’s Local College Access Network (LCAN) — hosted a Middle School Counselors Professional Development Training Day focused on early career preparation for students.

More than 40 middle school counselors and assistant principals attended “Aligning Career Academy Pathways from Middle to High School.” Joined by Polk County Public Schools district staff, participants connected with representatives from 13 area businesses for a series of roundtable discussions focused on five Polk-centric business sectors:

  • Agricultural Science and Construction
  • Public Service and Medical
  • Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Transportation & Logistics
  • Business, Hospitality and Entrepreneurship
  • Technology and Engineering

Public Service and Medical sector representatives from BayCare, Central Florida Health Care, Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and Bartow Fire Department offered insight on current and projected workforce needs.

“We worked intentionally with the Polk County School District Career Academies in selecting business leaders in specific sectors because the whole premise is to prepare students for the workforce in Polk County, whether they gain employment immediately upon graduation, go on to college, or enter the military,” said Pauline Simmonds-Brown, Education and Talent Alignment Coordinator for Polk Vision. “These are jobs that exist in Polk County, and this is critical information on how students can best prepare.”

The all-day summer training was the first requirement for middle school counselors towards earning Professional Development points. Additional points will be earned upon completion of a follow-up survey, which provides the opportunity to share feedback on how best to move the initiative forward at their respective schools and in the community.

Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz served as the featured lunch time speaker on the topic of “The Value and Importance of School Counselors in Preparing Students for Workforce.”

They will also be required to “create and present a PowerPoint with information regarding high school career academy options and the open enrollment process at an open house or Parent Night event” before September 30, 2019 (3-5 points) and “invite high school career academies to an evening showcase at your school or host a school day career fair” by May 1, 2020 (5-10 points).

Simmonds-Brown said the training day was planned at the suggestion of district leadership as Polk Vision’s Talent Pipeline Team was working with high school students to develop a college and career readiness resource — BeTheFutureBeU™ — that will serve as “a guide for students, created by students.”

“We want to create a culture in Polk County that encourages post-secondary education, a Polk-centric resource that students actually want to click on because we don’t just feed them information…we want them involved in the process,” said Simmonds-Brown. When presented to Polk County Public Schools leadership, “The feedback from the district was, ‘We think the conversation needs to start before 9th grade…how about we do something in the summer with middle school counselors?”

Monique Byrd, District Resource Specialist Trainer – School Counseling Services, shared information on survey feedback and the use of resources during the 2019-20 school year.

The BeTheFutureBeU™ website officially launched this week, the start of the fall semester in Polk County. The site features blogs, podcasts, videos and other materials centered on Polk college and career readiness. Through updates and various outreach activities, students will be encouraged to contribute content to the platform.

Meanwhile, the response to the first Middle School Counselors seminar was positive, and Simmonds-Brown was happy the event helped energize an important segment of the college and career readiness path for students.

“The initial feedback was wonderful. Counselors commented that the information was great and they were excited to take it back to their schools,” Simmonds-Brown said. “Middle school counselors really play a pivotal role in getting students engaged and excited early.”

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