What does a day for a newspaper and photographer look like? How does an attorney spend his time? Or a veterinarian? Or a police officer?
During this school year, every Liberty Middle School eighth grader will shadow someone in a career he or she is considering as part of a nine-week career class. Eleven students shadowed for a two- to four-hour period last Wednesday.
Students had been asked to indicate their top three career choices, and advisor Brittney Donnenwerth matched them with mentors. Partnering businesses were drawn from Chamber of Commerce membership and others within the community.
Students were prepared for the experience: dress for the job, walk in alone (no parents allowed), introduce yourself, give a firm handshake and have some questions ready to ask.
Businesses also received a tip sheet explaining what was expected of them. Donnenwerth said she had a good response from the community, but some were worried the time might be boring for a student.
That's something they need to know — a police detective's job may not look much like what the kids see on TV and there's no one else to do the paperwork in the Pratt office.
The students were excited when they received their assignments and were all very positive when they returned to school, Donnenwerth said.
Elise Coykendall shadowed at the Tribune, where she went on a photo assignment with reporter Gale Rose and sat in on a production meeting of the news staff.
Donnenwerth wasn't able to find a local person for Coykendall's first choice of an illustrator, but was arranged a short Skype interview with someone who illustrates children's books.
She has been surprised at the diversity of jobs available in Pratt, however.
"There's more to Pratt than we realize," LMS Principal Tony Helfrich commented.
One of the goals of the College and Career Readiness program, new this year at LMS, is to help students see the relevance of the classes they're taking in school to the work world, and to begin thinking about what they want to become.
The program at the eighth grade level is not meant to lock a student into a career or education path, but to give them something to think about.
Nor is the emphasis only on jobs requiring a university degree. Students can explore jobs they can begin with a high school diploma. There are some, Donnenwerth said, but not a lot. Most will require post-secondary education at a career or technology school or a community college.
The middle school program leads into a career program at the high school. Shadowing isn't a formal part of that program, Helfrich said, but he believes that having had the experience as eighth graders, the students will want to take a closer look at careers as they progress in making decisions.
They will want to "go see what it looks like," Donnenwerth said, adding that she majored in journalism without ever having been in a newsroom, and isn't sure she would have made that choice if she had. She did work in broadcast journalism, however, which illustrates something else the students need to learn, that people can change fields, but the skills they learn in school are still relevant.