Nearly 3,000 Eighth Graders from School District U-46 Take Time to ‘Explore’ Their FuturesSeptember 12, 2018
Cullen Watt focused intently as he followed the diagram next to a panel holding a red and blue light bulb. “It’s kind of like connecting the dots,” Amber Keane, a building maintenance technician for the City of Elgin, said encouragingly.
“It’s the moment of truth!” Cullen said as he finished the instructions and flipped a switch, giving himself a quick clap as the bulbs lit up.
Cullen, a student at Eastview Middle School in Bartlett, was among nearly 3,000 eighth grade students who on Wednesday attended Explore 2018, the annual curriculum and career expo put on by U-46 and the Alignment Collaborative for Education. Students from all eight of the District’s middle schools attended the event at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, arriving via U-46 buses throughout the day in a tightly choreographed schedule.
While this was the fourth year for Explore, it was the first in which eighth grade students attended as part of their school day. In previous years, Explore was offered on a Saturday at Elgin Community College, and in most cases, parents were responsible for bringing their students to the venue.
The expo is designed to support the District’s ongoing efforts to improve college and career readiness, and it offered students a wide variety of industries and “career clusters” to explore, often through hands-on experiments. Students hopped inside a SWAT truck and tried out its battering ram, built structures with gumdrops and toothpicks with HLR Engineering, learned how to tie knots with the Davey Tree Expert Company, and tried on virtual reality glasses at Fermilab. A full list of the more than 85 businesses, organizations and colleges that were present at Explore 2018 can be found here.
“I think the business community has had as much fun with this today as the students have,” said Nancy Coleman, executive director of Alignment, a non-profit local organization that brings together community resources and initiatives to support District priorities. “I’m grateful to the companies and organizations who have offered so many educational and career opportunities for the students to explore.”
Acknowledging the number of exhibits and the size of the Sears Centre, the District worked to prepare students to make the most of their time at the event. In classrooms starting in August, guidance counselors helped eighth grade students use Naviance, a web-based college and career readiness platform that the District just adopted, to determine the career cluster they wanted to focus on at the Sears Centre. Parents received handouts with suggestions about how they could help prepare their child for Explore 2018, and exhibitors were given suggestions for how to talk to the students and how hands-on activities would resonate.
Lisa Romero, a guidance counselor at Abbott Middle School in Elgin, said she thought the event was “enlightening and enriching” for her students. She particularly liked the one-on-one time that students got with exhibitors, who often told students about their own personal career path - sometimes one that diverged from what they had originally expected.
That was the case for Gary Farmer, who is the operations manager at Sherman Hospital in Elgin. He told Cullen Watt how he started working in housekeeping there to help pay his way through college, where he was pursuing an engineering degree. Farmer ended up finishing the degree, but rather than engineering, he decided to stay in health care and now manages a staff of more than 65 people.
In addition to about 85 business and industry partners who volunteered to showcase their careers at Explore 2018, U-46 faculty were also present to explain core classes, electives, and popular course sequences that are based on students’ career interests, such as courses in automotive, welding, healthcare science, and manufacturing, as well as additional college and career preparatory curriculum. Representatives from the five U-46 Academies were on hand, and high school students discussed unique programs and opportunities that are available, as well.
Vincent Centanni, a student at Abbott Middle School, was drawn to the Larkin High School table, featuring a robotic vehicle spinning around on the Sears Centre floor and a 3-D printer. Two Larkin seniors excitedly told him about the Project Lead the Way courses they have taken there, and the engineering, robotics and architecture projects they have finished as a part of their coursework. Vincent, who will be a student at Larkin next year, left the table happily carrying a 3-D shape of the iconic “Air Jordan” logo.
Meanwhile, Jay Patel and Daniel Doan, friends who are both students at Kenyon Woods Middle School in South Elgin, left the expo wanting to think more about pursuing careers in engineering after some positive experiences with exhibitors. But Jay said he might also like to become a doctor or go into business, and Daniel said his Naviance results make him want to look more into the arts, technology or communication. Neither of them thought it was too early for them to start thinking about the pathways they want to follow in high school, college and beyond.
"We are preparing students for college and career," said Lela Majstorovic, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education, Instruction and Equity. “The expo is a great way to inspire students and give them opportunities to connect the work they do in the classroom to their futures.”