The Explore Program, a class that has been in place at Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center for 15 years has been revamped and molded into a tool now designed to encourage, educate and inspire sophomore high school students to establish a mindset focused on their interests, strengths and passion.

The Explore Program gives students an opportunity to get an inside look at different career opportunities they are interested in before they take the plunge and begin studying at EOC Tech, if they choose to do so.

Explore Instructor Millisa Ellefson said many campuses in the state offer a shadow day where students can come over for one day and shadow a program, but EOC Tech is the only one right now who allows them to come for a whole semester, although that could change soon.

“I think we have been a model for other Technology Centers because there are some in this area who know what we’re doing and have talked about wanting to start their own Explore Program on their own campus.”

Sophomore students from Jones, Choctaw, Luther and Harrah each attend the program separately for an 85-minute class period for one semester.

“Part of the thinking behind this program is that many students don’t have a clear idea about what really happens in a program area,” Ms. Ellefson said. “If they have the opportunity to try it out first, they can make a better decision come their junior or senior year with a career that they really want to be in and is the best fit for them and their goals, whether it’s college or career.”

During the first four weeks, students go through an orientation period to determine what their true interests are when it comes to choosing a career and why. Ms. Ellefson instructs her students to use OKCareerGuide as a tool to assist them in the process.

“OKCareerGuide evaluates their interests, what they value in the workplace, how confident they are in their skills and in addition to that, how confident they are in learning new skills,” she said. “We try to concentrate on their strengths, not their weaknesses and then really perfecting that.”

Another part of the orientation period is designated for students to think about their future story. They are encouraged to reflect on where they want to be at in their life and career in three, five or ten years down the road.

“Whatever the dream for their life is —whether that ends up happening or not — we know from research that if we have that conversation and we teach students about the backward mapping and how to plan, they are much more likely to be successful.”

After the orientation period students choose their top five programs they would like to shadow based on their interests, strengths and goals. Once they are divided up they are able to spend time in that program learning the specific skills and performing hands-on tasks alongside the students already in the program.

“The fall semester has four rotations and the spring has five because it’s a little bit longer,” she said. “Each student stays in one of the programs they chose for about two and a half weeks before they rotate to the next program.”

During the time students are shadowing the program, they receive instructor feedback on their ability to work with others, complete tasks, manage their time and whether or not the instructor believes the student is a good fit for that specific program area.

Students also reflect back on their time in the program and answer different questions about themselves, what they learned, what they didn’t know about the career program prior to shadowing and also how this career could help them achieve their future story.

“We come back to my classroom for Socratic Circles which is a student led conversation,” Ms. Ellefson said. “The inner group discusses their experiences, while the outer group observes and provides feedback. After a set time, the groups switch roles and repeats the process.”

“We get this peer-to-peer conversation and it’s a pretty powerful thing, being able to have that conversation and provide structured feedback,” Ms. Ellefson said. “Through this, we’re also working on their communication skills, their ability to perform as a group as well as their willingness to listen and ask meaningful questions. I find that it’s really important to do that so when they go to their next rotation they are able to be better listeners in the classroom and ask meaningful questions in a way that they really weren’t able to before.”

Ms. Ellefson said the program has changed throughout the year as the students have changed. She holds exit interviews where they discuss what could be modified or added for the next semester.

“I’ve allowed students during the last two weeks of the program to go back to an area they really enjoyed,” she said. “Or if they want to change their mind based on Socratic Circles, they can. I want them to be able to explore different options so I try to be receptive to their ideas and how the program can improve.”

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