RF students: College and career ready

Posted 9/1/21

RIVER FALLS –College & Career Readiness Coordinator Melisa Hansen’s goal is for all Wildcats to leave River Falls School District with the confidence, skills and mindset to pursue a …

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RF students: College and career ready


RIVER FALLS –College & Career Readiness Coordinator Melisa Hansen’s goal is for all Wildcats to leave River Falls School District with the confidence, skills and mindset to pursue a fulfilling career path.

During a presentation at the Aug. 16 River Falls School Board meeting, Hansen and Meyer Middle School counselors Gary Campbell, Sam Dusek and Jordan Seifert updated the board on academic and career planning initiatives.

All students in grades 6-12 in Wisconsin are required to have an Academic Career Plan (ACP), which provides students the opportunity to compile a variety of information to plan for their future education and careers. MMS uses the software Xello to help improve the students’ ACP process.

The MMS plan provides a process for students to participate in ongoing activities for self and career exploration, career planning, and management, and goal setting, Campbell said. Each year students will be expected to complete a variety of activities to include in their portfolios that will enhance their knowledge about their interests and skills, and create opportunities to prepare for their futures.

In sixth grade, students work on “career focus,” which entails:

•Two to three lessons per year lead by grade level counselor

•Introduction to using Xello

•Complete Xello Matchmaker, which is a career interest inventory

•Exploring careers

•Saving career interests

•Researching two careers of interest “Kids starting to look and kids starting to think and kind of look at ‘Hey, what fits for me?’” Campbell said. “Not so much here’s a direction, take it, but what things do I like?”

In seventh grades, kids work on the following: •Two to three lessons per year lead by grade level counselor

•Review of ACP and how to use Xello

•Complete Xello Matchmaker

•Exploring careers

•Saving interesting careers in Xello In eighth grade, students take a careers class as an elective, Dusek said. In this class, students learn about:

•Student interests/skills

•Exploring learning styles

•Multiple intelligences

•Career exploration

•Personality styles

•Career clusters and pathways

•Xello Career Matchmaker

•Career research and presentations

•Character and careers

•Financial reality check

•Learning pathways

•Careers and biases

•Future goal-setting

•How to fill out job applications, resumes and ask for references

•Interviewing skills and mock interviews

•Transition to high school and registration “This gives them an opportunity to explore a lot of different things,” Dusek said.

On Xello, students fill out assessments that build self-knowledge. Students complete interactive career, personality and learning style assessments to help them better understand their unique interests, skills and strengths. Each engaging assessment encourages reflection, helping students connect who they are with relevant career options, Dusek said.

When students leave MMS, they take their ACP portfolio with them to RFHS. Each student creates a slideshow with their results, goals and skills. An ACP conference is held with parents at the end of eighth grade.

“Everything they do goes with them in Xello,” Seifert said.

In the 6-8 Connect Course, taught by school counselors each year, students focus on social/emotional learning skills and competencies, such as time management, handling stress, good decision-making, and how those things improve academics.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize one’s emotions, thoughts, feelings and values and understanding how they influence one’s behavior. Elements of self-awareness are:

•Labeling one’s feelings

•Relating feelings/thoughts to behavior

•Identifying one’s beliefs and values

•Accurate self-assessment of strengths and challenges


•Maintaining an optimistic attitude Self-management is the ability to successfully regulate one’s own emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations – effectively managing stress, controlling impulses and motivating themselves. Elements of self-management include:

•Managing stress

•Regulating one’s emotions



•Setting and achieving goals Responsible decision-making is the ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns and social norms. Elements for this are:

•Considering the well-being of self and others •Recognizing one’s responsibility to behave ethically

•Basing decisions on a range of considerations •Evaluating realistic outcomes of various actions •Making constructive, safe choices for self, relationship and school Social awareness is the ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Skills needed are:

•Perspective taking


•Respecting diversity

•Understanding social and ethical norms of behavior

•Recognizing family, school and community supports Relationship skills teach students the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. To do this, people must:

•Communicate clearly

•Build relationships with diverse individuals and groups

•Work cooperatively

•Resolve conflicts

•Seek help when needed

High school

Next, Hansen updated the board on the progress she and staff have made on the 9-12 ACP framework since 2018-19. Their goal remains the same, she said: “Every child a graduate, academically prepared and socially and emotionally competent by possessing and demonstrating knowledge, skills and habits to navigate life. The ACP is not about career declaration, but exploration, Hansen emphasized.

Research shows that ACP:

•Increases sense of belonging and engagement in learning

•Helps students find the relevance in what they’re learning and increases academic motivation •Ensures all students have a plan for success after high school, whether that’s the workforce, college, etc.

•Ensures that students are more prepared and better equipped to succeed, even in a tough economic situation “We’re not saying that everyone needs a path to a four-year degree,” Hansen said.

One way the district provides access to ACP for all students, regardless of learning environment, is the Virtual Connections website, which is interactive. The site includes access to a virtual coffeehouse, webinars, work and community- based learning opportunities, academic and career planning help, and more.

The skills most needed by employers are communication, decision-making, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and innovation, according to the Committee for Children Policy Report.

What’s next?

Each student 9-12 has a learner profile, leveraging what MMS started. Each month will focus on a different character trait with one to three lessons per month on Mondays in W.I.N. (which is like homeroom). The lessons will teach social/ emotional learning and career exploration, connected to ACP outcomes.

The school will also offer additional opportunities for students to pursue industry certifications, work-based learning opportunities, dual credit courses and participate in college fairs.

Each student upon leaving high school will have a career portfolio containing a personal vision statement, resume, cover letter, letter of recommendation, career exploration reflection, personal experience reflection, character reflection and final exit reflection. A space will allow the student to showcase achievements, such as recognitions, honors, awards, evidence of things they’re proud of, community service or clubs.

“The portfolio is designed to be summative of the high school journey,” Hansen said.

This project-based learning approach gives kids a public product to showcase, which adds to motivating them. It encourages high quality work, makes learning tangible and is an effective way to communicate to parents, community members and the world, here is what we can do, Hansen added.

“We’re more than a test score,” she smiled.

An ACP portfolio is required beginning with the Class of 2025. To learn more, visit www.rfsd.k12.wi.us/district/academic-and-career- planning.cfm

Graphic courtesy of River Falls School District