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Q&A with BHS College & Career Specialist Marcia Sexton

Q&A with BHS College & Career Specialist Marcia Sexton


marcia sexton

What is college and career readiness?

College and career readiness means that students have the ability to successfully complete credit-bearing coursework at a two- or four-year college/university or other credit-bearing post-secondary program without need for remediation. Being prepared for postsecondary education or training can often result in better job opportunities and access to a career that provides sustainable wages and pathways to advancement.

What makes a student college and career ready? 

Part of being college and career ready is students knowing who they are and what they are passionate about. At BHS, there are 14 different pathways with many class offerings, which gives students plenty of opportunities to explore. One of the keys to figuring out what post-secondary path to take is uncovering your interests. Students who learn about their interests in high school can save a lot of time and money in college. Many of our Pathways classes offer college credit or certification. Skills, such as self motivation, critical thinking, communication, and knowledge integration, which is putting your academic knowledge into real-life situations, are essential to being college and career ready.

How do you help students build their college and career readiness skills?

It all starts with a student’s desire and understanding of what they want out of life. Students need to know that they are in the driver’s seat of their future education and career

In 9th grade, we help students to start exploring their learning strengths and weaknesses, study skills and personality styles through assessments. Then, we start exploring careers that fit into those strengths and interests. In 10th grade, we look at careers and lifestyle costs, work values, and workplace skills and attitudes. We also begin looking at Pathway classes that might align with their career interests. In 11th grade, we continue to look at careers and explore options - considering what type of education or job training they will need for their career choices. Students learn about colleges, including what types of majors they need to pursue any given occupation and how much it will cost. I encourage students to explore Pathways classes to find out what they like and don’t like. The Pathways classes at BHS are a golden ticket. Students get the experience, even college credit or a certification, through our Pathways classes and it’s no cost to the student. This can potentially save a great deal of time and money. In 12th grade, we begin pulling it all together. Students learn about career backup plans, resume writing and interview skills. Throughout the year, I assist students as they navigate the final months of their high school career, helping them with college applications, scholarships and much more. 

What affects college readiness or what are the barriers that prevent students from attending college?

Some barriers are financial, being a first generation college student and not understanding the college process. One of the biggest barriers students have is knowledge of how college works, how they can benefit from going to college and how to make it affordable.

We have three exceptional college access programs that help students understand the college process: AVID, Upward Bound and College Possible. We also have a fantastic school counseling department and college and career center that work with students to help them achieve their goals.

What types of activities, events or programming does Burnsville High School and the College & Career Center offer to help students in their journey?

There are many events throughout the year that help students prepare for life after high school, including College Knowledge Month activities, college fairs, career expos and job fairs. During College Knowledge Month, approximately 50 colleges visit BHS to talk with students in the career center. There are presentations on college topics, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) workshops for parents and students, financial aid nights for parents, and college application days. In January, there is a Career Expo where businesses from the community share their knowledge about their occupations with students. There are scholarship days and special presentations throughout the year about a variety of topics. In the spring, there is another FAFSA workshop during conferences and a job fair in April with the Burnsville Chamber of Commerce.   

What are some practical ways that students can build college/career readiness?

Volunteering is an important way that students can discover an interest in a particular field. Going to a college for summer camp is also an excellent way to find out about majors and degrees. Most colleges have summer camps in engineering, medicine, business and technology. Additionally, extracurricular activities are a great way to socialize with other students with similar interests and also build leadership skills.

When should students begin thinking about college or a career and what steps should they take to ensure they pursue their goals?

Career exposure actually happens in elementary school. Many schools invite parents or community members into classrooms to talk about their occupations. This broadens students’ perspective of the world and teaches them that there are an array of options for their future. When a student is excited about a career and they know what they need to do academically in order to reach that goal, they will do better in school and will be able to transfer knowledge into real world skills

What advice would you give to incoming 9th graders about plans to go to college or enter the workforce?

Keep an open mind. The transition from middle school to high school can be a difficult time. Talk to your parents/guardians about your future. Most importantly, learn as much as you can while education is free. Grades do matter; don't fall behind. When colleges are looking at your applications, they are looking at not only your grades but your extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences as well. Make sure to get involved! Fun and social activities will help you build strong relationships and skills for your future in the workforce.

What advice would you give to parents about helping their high school students think about and prepare for college and career?

If your child has an interest in something, share that experience with them! Take them to the fire station if they want to be a firefighter or take them to a small airport if they want to be a pilot. Talk to them about your job and what other family members do for employment. Get them involved in hands-on activities. Your children will be stronger when you share your knowledge. 

Encourage your children but do not do their work for them. Sometimes the best lesson learned is through failure.

Our students are very fortunate to have access to the Pathways program. BHS is on the cutting edge of pathways and many other schools in the state and the nation are emulating our program.

In the last 18 years of working with high school students, my greatest joy is seeing the spark ignited when a student finds a passion for something they want to do after high school and being able to help them navigate the path between their passion and the education needed to achieve their goal.