Open Doors Program Sets Career Opportunities in Motion

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Katie Pierce

I’ve always  been called a “forward thinker,” especially by my parents. Living in the moment is easier for me to say than do and I tend to think ahead to the future, planning and predicting every step.

So naturally, college and careers have been on my mind since freshman year, where I began to explore my favorite career option: being a teacher.  As a freshman, there wasn’t much for me to plan for–no tests to take, no college searching necessary, no college visits to schedule.  But there was an option for kids my age, and for those older than I.  That opportunity was the Open Doors Career Exploration program.

That first year, I signed up to observe and assist in a middle school Algebra II honors course, a course I had actually taken the year before.  I worked with another student (a junior, at the time) to create an activity for reviewing material for a test.  The activity was successful, besides the few errors that my teacher spotted immediately.

My second year, I decided to apply to shadow a music teacher.  I had the opportunity to help kids learn their music and their instruments; I even had the opportunity to stay after school and help out during band rehearsal.

I has the chance to sit down with Mr. Jim Sullivan, one of the members on the committee that oversees the program to share my experiences, as well as to learn about the program’s intentions for students. Open Doors was started in 2006, but has really taken off over recent years as the committee and leaders progressed to improve it.  Last year, the program was led by Ms. Kathy O’Hara, with the help of Ms. Prasanthi Chennareddy. Together, they were able to draw about 198 students (about 11% of the school) to the program.  New members of the committee this year, in addition to Mr. Sullivan himself, are Mr. Richard Moore and Mr. Luke Mutter.

“My whole office is all about career connections,” Mr. Sullivan explained.  “It’s to give students a taste of how what they are studying in class applies to the real world.”  He explained that many students get to college not knowing what they want to do, causing them to spend more years in college, constantly changing their mind.  “If a person wants to be a doctor, or if they want to be an engineer, something that would take multiple years… they get to college and they realize, maybe, ‘That wasn’t for me,’” he told me.  The Open Doors Program allows those students to get a taste of their potential career.

If you’ve been to a meeting with your counselor recently, you may remember taking a survey regarding careers that best suit you.  There are 16 national career ‘clusters,’ as they are called, and Open Doors opportunities represented 13 of those clusters with their options last year.  “This year we will have (all) 16,” he said.  Those new categories are Architecture, IT (Information Technology), and even Transportation.

This unique program is a part of a ‘continuum’ of college career experiences, Mr. Sullivan explained.  The continuum includes everything from your semester meetings with counselors, to the LFHS Career Fair in the spring.  Making connections from specific classes to careers is something the committee is working on this year; just think about how woodshop or Spanish could lead to careers in a myriad of different ways.  “We’ve connected all of our current courses to the 16 career clusters,” he explained.  Therefore, there are lots of possibilities for every kind of student.  There are even internships that students have done over the summer, through the school, for different organizations.

The list of opportunities this year is extensive.  Small businesses, schools, newspapers, physical therapy, and even environmental organizations are welcoming students for job shadowing this fall.  Mr. Sullivan and the committee are making an effort to reach out to teachers whose classes align with different job areas in order to encourage students to take advantage of specific shadowing opportunities based off of specific classes.  “Our goal is to increase (our turnout) by 10%,” Mr. Sullivan told me.  “Last year, (we had an) 13% increase from the previous year, so we want to keep growing.”

According to Mr. Sullivan, underclassmen made up a large number of the participants, especially sophomores. This means younger students are eager to discover their strengths, and discover the right career for them. “The student and the businesses are asked to provide feedback through a form that we have,” Mr. Sullivan told me.  “And they have really enjoyed stepping out of their comfort zone, and these businesses…they really want to give back.”

So how do you sign up?  The program information will be live the first week of October, and the program dates will be on our parent-teacher conference days (off of school): Thursday, November 2nd, and Friday, November 3rd.

None of this would be possible without the support of the APT and also the board.  “All of the work on Career Connections relates to the board goal, the board milestone, rather, of helping students be college and career ready.” Mr. Sullivan explained.  “That’s a huge direction from the board, from the superintendent, from the principal, and from all of us… That’s why there is interest in this program expanding.”

Participating in the Open Doors Program at LFHS builds confidence.  It builds connections with the businesses who volunteer to mentor students.  It gives every participant the opportunity to see what their future could be like.

And for students like me, students who like to look ahead, this program allows us to do so.  We may not know what our future careers will be, but this program gives us the opportunity to try to figure it out; all the while living in the moment as high school students.