Incoming ninth-graders at the Howard County School of Technology will get to sample all 19 programs at the school starting this year through a plan to help students become more aware of career options.

As part of the school's new Career Exploration Program, administratorsare offering students the opportunity to take courses ranging from diesel mechanics to the culinary arts -- before selecting a career plan.

In the past, students were locked into a program chosen at the beginning of the school year. The system often resulted in a curriculumswitch at the end of the term or the following fall.

"Our experience has been that some are not ready for a specific commitment to oneprogram or sometimes they stay in a program and should be in another," principal Mary Day said.

"Our attrition rate is higher than what we want it to be in terms of dropping out of courses and the program. We want to help students make better career choices from the onset, giving them the opportunity to look at all the programs offered here over a period of a year."

The program will be coupled with individualized career plan ning. "This provides more nurturing, more attention and more contact," she said.

Every Monday, students will attend a different class that focuses on one of the 19 program areas within four career clusters: transportation, construction, and technical and service industries.

"The opportunity to experience them is better for the students," said Day, who has been principal for five years. "It would tie all the courses in and students would be making decisions along the way."

The high school's three-year curriculum actually begins in grade 10. Ninth grade is a "time of transition," for entering students, Day explained.

There are 621 students enrolled in the school. Students attend one of two sessions scheduled from 8 to10:50 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. in addition to classes taken at their home high schools.

Many of the students enroll in the school after taking a walking tour while still in eighth grade. They must be recommended by middle school teachers and counselors, then undergo an evaluation process. The tests are sent to a committee and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"The Exploration Program is just another piece to the process," Day said.

The innovative program will also offer vocational assessments and workshops, helping each student develop his or her career plan.

"At the end of the school term," we will review everything with them and finally sit down and say, 'This is where we go,'" she said.

The school will also teach ninth-graders the art of resume preparation and interviewing techniques. "As they progress through the program, the programs become more sophisticated," Day said.

"By the time they're in upper level, they'll have real experience in job interviewing skills."

The school term will end, as it always has, with a field trip to "the world of work" or a career fair.

"At least students will have an opportunity of program visitation or field trips, visiting with somebody in that field," she said.

"If we take them to BG&E;, they will see the careers all in one place. Or if we bring BG&E; here, they could interact with them."

The school will be offering career orientation for entering students over the next two weeks.

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