Prepared for anything: WHS implements Life Ready programming

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When Westfield High School administration found studies that showed college enrollment declining and more students entering the workforce or trade schools following high school, it devised a plan to prepare students for all post-high school education and career paths.

The program is called Life Ready.

“From a big-picture point of view, it’s a shift of philosophy in terms of thinking,” Director of School Counseling Dan Doherty said. “Everything was pushing (Advanced Placement) and everybody goes to college, but now we want to get you the best prepared you can be, whether that’s for a two- or four-year school (or workforce). The big picture is we want to educate the whole child. Yes, we are an academic institution and our job is to prepare students academically. However, a lot more has fallen on the role of the school.

“Not only are we providing education in the academic realm, but we are also helping students try to focus on personal wellness. If you don’t have that good self-awareness and self-management, you’re going to struggle down the road, career-wise.”

Prior to Life ready, WHS received feedback from students that the courses being offered weren’t sufficient for post-high school goals.

“Quite honestly, we got a lot of pushback from students that we were missing the mark on 25 percent of our kids because that wasn’t their plan or what they wanted to do,” Doherty said. “So, instead of starting with the philosophy to prepare for the day after graduation and shifting from everybody goes to college, we finally landed on everybody has a career.

Rachel Szymczak presents to the school board. Szymczak is a WHS student, took a certified nursing assistant course and is enrolled in an EMT course at the high school. (Submitted photo)

“With that in mind, we are building our master schedule providing education opportunities for students and parents to best prepare them for what career path they think they may want to do.”

Some of those opportunities involve classes helping with college requirements for those students who are planning to go to college, but also providing classes on specific careers, internships, externships and even certifications.

“We want (students) to take some classes that are going to give them a better idea of what they’ll explore in that career,” Doherty said.

Courses and certification are available for students to become licensed nursing assistants or EMTs.

“Our students who want to get into the medical field are getting a great experience and high school credit at same time,” Doherty said. “Some experience has solidified their choices in terms of they think they want to do a career, and some experience is eye-opening and they realize it’s not in the cards for them down the road.”

WHS Dean of Career and Community Engagement Matt Putman said by offering courses preparing students for life instead of just college, businesses in the community benefit.

“Businesses in the community are more willing to hire students out of high school with a certificate and work ethic and then pay for additional training,” he said. “A lot of industries, not only locally but nationally, are willing to invest in a future workforce.” 

WHS Principal Stacy McGuire introduces the Life Ready program to the Westfield Washington Schools Board of Trustees. (Submitted photo)

The Career Leaf

Within the Life Ready program is a shamrock design with three leaves – one each for academics, wellness and careers. Within the career leaf, Westfield High School administration identified eight skills necessary for students to be successful, no matter what profession they choose. The skills are leadership, communication, dependability, coachability, growth mindset, integrity, flexibility and being a team player.

WHS also has developed an in-house assessment that tests students and identifies their skills. 

“If a student does choose to go the employment route, they can take that (assessment), and it’s more meaningful to the employer and shows they have strong leadership skills,” WHS Director of Career and Community Engagement Putman said. “There are questions or indicators within the assessment where you can’t stretch the truth.”

Since establishing the Life Ready program, other schools are reaching out to WHS.

“We have had other high schools reach out to us from around the state and ask how we are doing this. It aligns with the state and the graduation pathways and having those things,” Putman said. 

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