Berreth's advisory class at BHS exploring interests and careers

We spend a lot of our time focused on the 13+ years our students spend within our schools and programs, and we also work to help our students envision the life waiting for them after high school as well.  

Washington state requires all graduates to complete a “High School and Beyond Plan” (HSBP). The HSBP is one tool to help students achieve their “fulfilling and productive life” our community envisions in The Bellingham Promise for all our students. 

Collective commitment 

This year our high schools have kicked it up a level, teaching a set of common lessons weekly during advisory classes, and increasing focus on to an online portfolio and portal students can work through and add to as they progress through high school.  

Families can also have a login to help facilitate discussions with their high school students and help them plan for post-secondary learning, careers and life. 

Heather Steele, career and technical education (CTE) teacher and Bellingham High School administrative intern, has led a team designing and coordinating the HSBP lessons in partnership with the High School and Beyond coordinators from all four district high schools. Each weekly lesson is carefully designed to be “plug and play” so students across all our high schools engage in the same learning and activities.   

“Engaging with high school and beyond planning benefits students and families,” Steele said.  

Advisory teachers are a resource for students and help build community and connection in a non-academic setting. Sharing lessons across the school also provides weekly structure during advisory time, which is also a space for homework, announcements and other important activities. 

Counselors, families, advisory teachers, high school and beyond coordinators and students partner together to help build a cohesive, customized plan for each student. The plan is revisited regularly, and then spring of senior year, counselors check off this graduation requirement.  

“The goal is for all students to exit at graduation with a plan,” Martha Zender, Sehome high school and beyond coordinator, said. “We want them to have a toolbox ready. The more they have in their toolbox, the more confident they can be.” 

Discover and develop 

“I’m more open about what I want to do with my future,” one ninth grade student in Kati Berreth’s advisory class said during a recent lesson, where students explored careers and “hearted,” or bookmarked, them for future reference. “The lessons are helping me understand what I want to do.” 

That particular lesson, taught in November 2021, focused on exploring the career planner module within the HSBP, where students can explore career strands, for example “Health” or “Law.” Each career page shows information on training, skills needed, and potential income.  

“I’ve had this career bookmarked since the sixth grade,” one student said. “I knew I wanted to do something in the medical field.” 

Other careers being explored around the room included working with animals, real estate, registered nurse and contractor/builder. 

Students had already taken an interest inventory in a previous lesson, which helped them identify where their skills and work interests might lie.  

“Sometimes students don’t know how their interests and skills line up with career pathways,” Zender said. 

Students in Berreth’s class had also explored cities and other areas they might want to live and what lifestyle they hoped to have, then learned the approximate income they would need to earn to have their desired lifestyle. 

For some, Berreth said, it was an eye-opener as to how budgets, bills and housing might work when they launch into adulthood.  

She also reminded her class to look at different industries and jobs in case they change their minds or one industry does not work out.  

“My jobs are all completely different and I want to do all of them equally!” one student said. 

Berreth reminded her class that lots of people change jobs, and the important thing is to have a direction and employability skills.  

“We don’t need to think about all the steps, we just need to think about the first steps,” Berreth said. 

The widest range of educational and vocational options 

The new advisory lessons correlate what our state calls “Future Ready Skills” with the outcomes of The Bellingham Promise.  

For example, the lessons in September, October and November 2021 focused on the future ready skills “Self-directed learner,” “community contributor,” and “collaborative teammate,” respectively, which our lessons correlated with The Bellingham Promise outcomes “confident individuals who continually challenge themselves,” “respectful and compassionate humans” and “leaders, collaborators and team players.”  

Many of lessons and topics will repeat each year, to help reinforce the skills, and also account for students’ changing experiences, interests and results. “The lessons all tie in and build on each other,” Zender said.  “The feedback from the kids is inspiring and encouraging.” 

Some lessons are also specific to older students, such as juniors and seniors learning about financial aid for college and other post-secondary programs, Zender said.  

Advisory teachers can track students’ progress and provide a personal connection with their advisory students. The lessons and HSBP provide a communication tool and a conversation starter for families as well. 

We encourage families to login with their children and open conversations about next steps, from registering for remaining high school classes to looking ahead to pathways for applying to a four-year college or university, two-year community or technical colleges, apprenticeship programs, industry standard certificate programs, military training, or on-the-job training. 

Our goal is to provide tools that make career and college planning clearer, purposeful, equitable and tailored to each student’ needs. Beyond the HSBP, each high school maintains a job board and resources, college planning resources, volunteer opportunities, test prep resources and tutoring resources. Visit the Career Center website at your high school for more information.  

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