Angela Mahoney, MEd
Rogers Park Middle School
The other day while shopping at a local grocery store, I ran into a former student. I couldn’t believe that this young man I taught in middle school, who like many students faces a unique set of challenges, was now a high school graduate with a job.
As soon as we began talking I could see the pride and confidence beaming from him while he bagged my groceries. As I turned to leave, he shared how he remembered learning how to bag groceries in my class. I couldn’t believe it. That moment solidified my purpose for educating professionals and parents about pre-vocational training, and underscored my passion for education.
Wherever your child’s path might lead following high school, the strong foundation of these skills provided will help contribute to his or her success. What I am suggesting is early intervention coordinated to promote age-appropriate growth during the critical years of middle school, ages 11-14 — a ‘pre-vocational’ intervention if you will. Let’s build that skill base!
There are many opportunities both at school and at home for vocational tasks to be introduced, discussed, and practiced. The keys to solid growth in vocational skill level are opportunity, consistency and repetition. Consider what your child is currently working on in both environments. Then, ask yourself if you can add additional experiences to build a strong vocational foundation.
Build on the vocabulary used to describe tasks at hand. Examples of key vocabulary include but are not limited to: supervisor, co-worker, timecard and uniform. When working with specific materials, label each one so your child knows the terms for the materials they are using as well. For example, if working with clerical supplies, name the items such as envelope, mailing labels and envelope sealer. Additionally, list the variety of jobs connected to the task at hand such as mail delivery, bagger and cashier. Lastly, help your child ‘see’ the jobs in his or her mind. For instance, when working with clothing items, list the stores in the area that your child has been to before. Having the personal connection as well as the visual strengthens the connection to the newly introduced concept.
When out in the community, discuss the jobs you see with your child. Encourage him or her to identify jobs as well and name what they are working with. This helps to build the vocational vocabulary. Words such as supervisor, co-worker, register and uniform are examples of expanding your child vocabulary through real life connections.
Continue to inquire about what experiences vocationally your child has had in the school setting. Look for variety. It is important that your child experience jobs that they enjoy but also challenge them as well. Those become teachable moments and help build the foundation for workplace success.
Everyone deserves to be a contributing part to this society and with a strong vocational foundation set at the right time, everyone can.