PELHAM - U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen visited Pelham High School on Friday for a round-table discussion with students, teachers and staff to learn about The Career Pathways initiative, a program to help guide and prepare students for careers that may interest them.
The Career Pathways program, developed and launched by Pelham Dean of Students Anne Fowler six years ago, outlines several different "pathways" students can choose from, depending on their interests and goals for the future. Guidance is offered on course selection, internships or job shadowing, field trips, and opportunities to earn college credit.
Shaheen said that one of the main issues she hears from the public is that there is a lack of qualified workers. Applauding the program at Pelham High, she said it is important for the state to focus on building a workforce that is educated and prepared for open jobs.
About 60 students at Pelham High are on their way, and they are getting an early start.
"When you have a goal to be very successful and you have a pathway like this, you have an advantage," said Pelham High School senior Justin O'Connor, a participant in the Business Pathway, and one of five students who joined the senator in the discussion.
Justin said he always had an entrepreneurial spirit and this program has helped to polish those attributes. He started his own clothing line this past summer and is diligently working on a business plan, including filling out applications for a trademark.
With dreams to match his ambition, he said he hopes to be the next Louis Vuitton, and that he would never have the knowledge to start his company without the experience from this program.
"The Pelham School District was always one of the districts in the state that was very forward thinking," Shaheen said during the discussion.
Senior Megan Landry, a participant in the Healthcare and Medical Profession STEM Pathway, said while she was always drawn to sciences, she did not know what specific avenue to pursue in the field.
"When I joined the pathway, I found out what my interest was most in," Megan said.
Being exposed to the different courses specific to her interests, coupled with an exposure to real-life work experiences, Megan now confidently says she will be studying biology in college next year.
Program participants are offered help tracking their course schedule across all four years at the high school. Fowler said it can be very hard for a student to look at the complete course catalog and map out prerequisites needed to reach their goals.
"Students often stumble on the pre-recs. ... They miscalculate the plan," Fowler said.
The program helps simplify their steps and clearly outlines each class the students need to be taking.
But more than just planning a schedule, this program takes the students beyond the walls of the classroom.
Linda Fox, dean of English at Pelham High, said that the school finds it important "to give [students] the opportunity to visit the environment that the pathway is offering."
Megan said her field trip to Lowell General Hospital helped solidify her interest in the medical field and narrow her focus.
"It was a good experience to see all of the different parts of the career," Megan said.
Seniors Kristyn Demers, pursuing the Future Teachers Pathway, and Aurora Gloor, pursuing the Visual and Performing Arts Pathway, both are doing internships and working at Pelham Elementary School. Kristyn is working in a third-grade classroom and Aurora is an art teacher.
Kristyn said that teaching in the school confirmed her desire to study education in college.
"At first, I was nervous I wouldn't like it and would have to rethink my whole life," Kristyn said. "But once I got there I realized I couldn't imagine doing anything else but teaching."
So far, the program has 13 students taking internships - an advanced step for high school students.
For those who cannot fit a full internship into their schedule, the program offers other real-life work experiences, such as a job-shadowing. Fowler said that even a short visit helps shape a student's decision on whether this is a career to actually pursue.
Students also have the opportunity to sit in on college classes to see what their future academic life would be like if they continue to follow through with this path.
"It's an eyeopening experience for them," Fox said.
The program can help assist families struggling with college affordability by allowing students to gain college credits in high school, or by realizing they do not want to pursue a certain career.
Pelham High School Principal Gary Dempsey said success doesn't just come from students who follow all courses in a pathway through to graduation. He said that for the students who try a pathway and realize that the career path isn't for them — before they spend money on college courses — that is a success, too.
"If a student can be more certain before the expense of college, we have done our job," Fowler said.
Several Pelham students enter college with a number of credits already under their belt. The school has accreditation through Lakes Region Community College, Manchester Community College, Nashua Community College, and Southern New Hampshire University.
Justin said he will be entering college next year with 13 credits — almost a full semester's worth.
And some of the success seen from the program isn't quantifiable by numbers. Fox said that self-esteem skyrockets for students, because they are working hard and being successful at something they love.
Dempsey added that they prove to themselves that they are "college material."
"We're very proud of what we're able to do," Fowler said.