by Jared Erb, Rich Eby & Erik Orndorff, First Choice Career Coordinator, Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent at Pequea Valley School District
In partnership with the Lancaster Chamber, Pequea Valley School District is seeking ways to address the ever-evolving workforce gap that needs to be filled. Schools must approach educational programming differently to provide employers with dependable high-skilled employees.
In response to the workforce gap, Pequea Valley has developed a mentor program encompassing an entire grade level that meets continuously throughout learners’ 10th-grade year. This program serves as a conduit for employers to share their vision while also benefiting them as learners’ Post-Secondary First Choices align with their employment needs. This has and will continue to be a win-win for both employers and future employees to thrive and fill the workforce employment gap!
The PV (Post-Secondary) First Choice vision encompasses many career-related activities throughout the K-12 journey. For example, the PV Early Learning Initiative ensures all learners be “kindergarten ready” in order to increase their level of literacy by 4th grade, and assists in putting learner’s on a positive trajectory to be prepared for their “Post-Secondary First Choice”. The PV 10th Grade First Choice Discovery Mentor Program will act as a catalyst in each learner’s career journey by better informing their decisions in their junior and senior years where crucial decisions are made in transitioning to postsecondary pursuits, ultimately addressing the employer staffing crisis through increased knowledge and perspective from professionals in local industry aligned to learners current first choices.
According to youth.gov, mentoring programs provide many positive benefits for youth, including increased high school graduation rates, better lifestyle choices, improved interpersonal skills, and stronger relationships with parents, teachers, and peers. With this mentoring initiative, the need for increasing relationships with the professional community is essential in establishing the connections necessary to bridge employer staffing needs. The goal is to help each learner advance in building human capital through establishing meaningful connections in their journey towards obtaining a career allowing them to be independent and fulfilled.
The Mentor Program Implementation Strategies (2022-23) are as follows:
Why 10th Grade? We wanted 9th-grade programming to be entirely devoted to the exploration of possible careers. Also, facing the difficulty in scheduling junior and senior learners for an ongoing mentor program due to being out of the building frequently because of First Choice Customized scheduling – going to dual enrollment, CTC, pre-apprenticeships, internships, Co-ops, and/or job shadows, we targeted our entire tenth grade simply for the reasons that we needed something special to do for this grade level regarding career exploration, and this is the last time we would have all of our learners on campus throughout the entire school day with minimal interruptions.
Open House: Invited potential mentors to an open house in September where we shared our First Choice vision and employed their support in conveying the need for a broad-stroked mentor program which will serve the entire grade level.
Mentor Training: Mentors attended a training session in October, highlighting the specific goals of the program, tools to be utilized throughout the sessions, and further sharing best practices for developing mentor/mentee relationships. During these trainings, we partnered with presenters from Kitchen Kettle Village Human Resources Department, the Factory Ministries, MissyJeans Consulting, and Intercourse Merchants Association to present to the mentors and describe the tools and techniques we would use in the program.
- Session 1 – Building Critical Skills: Mentors and mentees took assessments to discover their personal strengths. They collaborated through team-building activities to build relationships, deepen understanding of their personal strengths,
- Session 2 – Resumes & Interviewing: Learners developed resumes aligned to their personal strengths and First Choices, crafted 30-second elevator pitch, and engaged in mock interviews.
- Session 3 – Career Pathway Fair: Acquired knowledge from industry professionals regarding their career journey and gained advice for pursuing opportunities towards exploring their First Choice. Fifty-five companies and community partners attended the fair sharing connection opportunities.
- Session 4 – Job Shadow Day: Aligned to First Choice interests, Eleven groups of learners visited twenty-two companies engaging in hands-on learning activities and presentations regarding a typical day in the life of highlighted career professionals.
- Session 5 – Next Steps: Observed a panel discussion of recent PV graduates commenting on their first choice journey in the first few years following graduation. Engaged in small group discussions with their mentors to hear about their personal career journeys and advice they have for next steps.
Data Collection: Learners took pre and post-surveys to ascertain their perceived personal growth over the course of the program. Collected information and feedback from the mentors regarding program efficacy compared to desired outcomes.
Business partnerships have a significant impact on schools and learners. In a recent program called First Choice Discovery, learners have had their first choice confirmed by these experiences, mentors have been able to speak to future steps, and connections have been made for future internships and employment opportunities. The program has resulted in increased awareness and collaboration for businesses in school programs, which has led to industry tours, internships, classroom presentations, and actual employment for current juniors and seniors.
The mentoring program involved 44 mentors from 40 different local companies and community organizations who showed their enthusiasm and support in helping to “Raise the Valley.” The Factory Ministries played a critical role in providing leadership and guidance to learners as mentors, internship supervisors, session and classroom presenters, career fair vendors, and many other ways of partnering. The organization also hosted interns in early childhood education and maintenance.
Kitchen Kettle Village, another company that has partnered with the school, provided van transportation at the conclusion of the school day for learners who work there part-time but cannot drive themselves. The company has hosted job shadows, supplied four team members serving as mentors and session presenters, attended the career fair, and participated in middle school events as well. Other companies, notably Thomas E. Strauss, have provided four team members to be mentors and have been instrumental in providing first-choice opportunities for learners, such as internships, job shadows, and local employment opportunities.
Following each session throughout this program, staff, learners, mentors, and teachers have reported positive outcomes as a result of the collaborative interactions for the First Choice. After the first session, a learner stopped a staff member in the hallway and said, “Honestly, my friends and I thought this was going to be boring, just sitting and listening to presentations, but this was really fun!”
Several companies have been integral in multiple First Choice Discovery offerings. These companies include (see image below)
Here is a slidedeck showcasing the highlights of our program: https://tinyurl.com/pvmentorprogram
Benefits of Mentoring for Young People, youth.gov, https://youth.gov/youth-topics/mentoring/benefits-mentoring-young-people, retrieved 4/23/2023.
First Choice Career Coordinator
Pequea Valley School District
Pequea Valley School District
Pequea Valley School District
This article was first printed in our Spring/Summer 2023 Edition of Thriving Magazine. You can read more here: Lancaster Chamber Thriving Magazine