Advancing Career Counseling Across Orange County Feature Story

August 31, 2020

It is one thing to believe in the power of career education to change lives and quite another to successfully guide a student along an educational pathway all the way to career success. But that’s exactly what the Orange County Department of Education’s (OCDE) Advancing Career Counseling in Orange County initiative has set out to do.

By providing a Career Counseling Coordinator (CCC) to almost every secondary school district in Orange County, this initiative is helping develop the critical infrastructure necessary to strengthen and align primary and secondary school K-12 pathways with community college Career Education programs across the region.

“This really is at the heart of everything else we’re doing related to the OC Pathways K-12 Strong Workforce Program (K12 SWP) grant,” says Kathy Boyd, Executive Director of OC Pathways and Director of the OCDE’s Career Education Unit. “The CCC’s are of critical importance because they help stitch all of the other K12 SWP initiatives together.”

For more information about OC Pathways, please see this previously published article OC Pathways Paves Way for Regional Education and Industry Partnerships.

In addition to providing expertise in all aspects of career counseling, these CCC’s will play a critical role in helping align CTE curriculum, activities, initiatives, and counseling efforts between secondary and post-secondary institutions.

As part of the OC Pathways K-12 SWP grant, this initiative is one of eight regional initiatives focused on the development and strengthening of K-14 CTE course sequences, programs, and pathways. The other seven are:

  • Building CTE Dual Enrollment – Build and grow CTE dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment and articulation course offerings/pathway sequences between high schools and community colleges in Orange County 
  • Creating Industry Certification Opportunities – Develop opportunities for all students to have access to industry certifications county-wide, and align these opportunities from high school to community college
  • Designing Career-Based Student Leadership – Inspire students to learn and acquire career development skills by building student leadership in Orange County beyond Career Technical Student Organizations (CTSO)
  • Enhancing Career Education Pedagogies – Provide learning opportunities for K-12 teachers in career pathway and career awareness programs so they can grow in their proficiency as career education educators
  • Forming OC Integrated Pathway Teams – Build incentives for schools and districts to develop and refine career pathway sequences with multidisciplinary pathway teams
  • Heightening Work-Based Learning – Working from a consistent work-based learning continuum, build upon work-based learning in Orange County from the established practices set by the regional ROP’s. which are currently implementing work-based learning in 15 secondary districts across the county
  • Gold Standard CTE Model for Special Populations – Create learning opportunities for special populations students to engage in rigorous CTE pathways through high quality work-based learning experiences 

As a whole, these various initiatives support the twelve guiding principles set forth by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office’s Workforce Pathways Joint Advisory Committee and were designed to maximize student opportunities, build motivation and capacity for civic engagement, and develop outcomes that align with community colleges so that all Orange County students have the opportunity to be college and career ready.

“What we’re doing at OC Pathways is trying to align all the CTE work that’s being done at our K-12 schools with regional community colleges in an articulated way so that our high school students are flowing easily into our community college pathways,” says Boyd. “There are a lot of students in high school repeating course content because our systems are not aligned well enough yet. The purpose of this role is to make those connections happen.” 

Housed at their various district offices, the intent of the CCC position is to embed career education systemically and organize school counseling efforts to align with the opportunities available at regional community colleges. As such, these coordinators provide a critical piece of infrastructure that will encourage systemic change by helping the region more effectively coordinate and align its career education efforts. 

According to OC Pathways Coordinator Kim Goodwin, all of this adds up to more opportunities and better outcomes for students, and a well-prepared workforce for Orange County’s businesses.

“Everything we do, students are at the top of the list,” says Goodwin. “But the truth is, if we’re doing this right, it benefits everybody. Students save time and money and find better careers, and businesses have access to a more skilled and better prepared workforce.”

By all accounts, the OC Pathways team seems to be “doing it right.” Across the region, middle school CTE enrollment was up more than 27 percent in 2019-20 compared the previous school year, while high school enrollment was up more than 8 percent. Other notable accomplishments include the addition of 24 new CTE dual-enrollment courses across the region and 81 new industry certifications.

“There’s never been anybody who’s tried to systemize change regionally while creating opportunities for K-12 students,” says Goodwin. “So, I think we’re growing on all fronts because people are seeing there’s infrastructure now to support their ideas and efforts. It’s really a win-win for all stakeholders.”

In addition to being the driving force behind much of this growth, these coordinators are also driving the collection of data related to student and program outcomes.

“One of the things I’ve focused on with our coordinators is that we have to be data-driven,” says Goodwin. “It took a little convincing but now that we’re at the end of our first year, we’re really seeing the impact of these programs and that’s because Orange County made it a priority. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that being data-driven isn’t about the data, it’s about the students and the impact you are or aren’t making. It’s great to have evidence of what’s working.”

As they begin the next grant application process for K12 SWP, Boyd and Goodwin are excited about the accomplishments of OC Pathways this year and looking forward to fostering these initiatives and developing career education pathways that make it easier for students to transition into college and find careers.

“Everything we do is with students in mind,” reflects Boyd. “This is all about making sure they get the maximum benefit from this funding. They are the future of Orange County, after all.”

To learn more about the amazing career education opportunities available to students in Orange County, click here to keep exploring.