Litchfield Curriculum To Explore Careers

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"What we're seeing is that in today's world, students need to be exposed to different opportunities," said Litchfield Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau. "That's why we are formulating a new vision for the district."

Starting this year, the school district has already begun making changes which will expose all students, from kindergarten through 12th grade to more career options in a wide variety of approaches. To help with this endeavor, the district hired retired Pana superintendent, Dr. David Lett, as the coordinator of the Career and Technical Education program.

One of the efforts already underway is the iDream/iCreate program, which is run through a partnership with the University of Illinois Extension service.

The program was piloted three years ago in the Marshall School District, and Litchfield is just the second school district in the state to offer it.

Dr. Fuerstenau said the administrative team started talking about it last fall, and have already started the iDream program this year on even numbered grades. They will continue with the iDream program on the even numbered years next year, adding in the iCreate program for odd numbered grades.

"This program is the blueprint or the backbone to the curriculum we want to have in place for all our grades," said Dr. Lett.

One of the advantages of the program is that it is run by community volunteers. Valerie Belusko of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation is serving as the point person to make sure the program is running smoothly.

Administrators will be touring the Marshall School District in March to continue looking at ways the program is implemented in that school district.

Students will likely participate in the iDream/iCreate program twice a year. 

To supplement that endeavor, elementary school students will also have the chance to use a new Xello program online, which offers career exploration.

Another new facet of the careers curriculum will be career exploration at the middle school level during exploratory time. 

"It will give students a chance to dig deeper into career exploration," said Dr. Lett. "When kids walk into the high school, they will already have lots of career exposure and may be able to hone in on a career path that interests them."

The LMS eighth grade team is also planning to host a career fair on April 24 with more exposure of local options for students. Speakers will share their jobs with students in the morning, and in the afternoon, students will tour Corteva, Schutt Sports, Dometic and Worksaver.

At the high school level, the district plans to enhance the successful senior seminar program, adding a work ethics class at the junior level. They also plan to teach soft skills to make them ready for college, careers or the military when they graduate.

In addition to career-based programs at LHS, the district has also approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Hillsboro, Nokomis and Panhandle School districts to form the Montgomery County School District Career and Technical Consortium. It will allow the four high schools to share resources and courses to provide more opportunities for all county students. The district is also working on more dual credit classes with Lincoln Land Community College.

They also hope to be able to work with the Macoupin County School Consortium in the future as well.

"When you look at the amount of college debt, we want to give our students a head start on their college classes," said Dr. Fuerstenau. 

In December, the school board passed a new academic recognition plan that eliminates weighted classes as well as the valedictorian and salutatorian awards. This gives students a chance to select classes they are interested in without feeling penalized by not being able to compete for the top honors.

For example, last year's salutatorian, Sydney Hoehl, who is now a music major at the University of Oregon, said she wanted to take more music classes at LHS because that's where her passion was, but she knew it meant she would not be able to be the class's valedictorian. 

The new recognition program, which began with this year's freshman class, will allow students to select programs like the CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities) or CNA classes and still be eligible to graduate with honors with their classmates.

"Colleges are going to look at the overall student portfolio," said Dr. Fuerstenau. "Students should be able to take what they want to take and what will be most beneficial to them."

The school will still recognize the top ten percent of honor graduates during the commencement program.

"We don't want to limit any opportunities for our kids," said Dr. Fuerstenau.

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