Career Development Curriculum for First-Generation Middle School Students

by Cathleen M. Barrett

Two counselors who were passionate about facilitating career development in elementary and middle schools created a career exploration curriculum for a group of 7th grade students who were first generation Mexican-Americans. The facilitators sought and found both enthusiastic approval and support for their ideas from the principal and the bi-lingual education teacher. A pre-group presentation on the goals and purposes of the group was made to encourage student interest. The bi-lingual education teacher called parents to inform them of the opportunity and provide them with a copy of the lesson plans. Twenty-seven students were invited to participate, 25 received parental approval to do so. Based on parental approval, 22 students (14 females, 8 males) volunteered to attend the four-week series that met twice a week for a total of ninety minutes per week, 8 sessions total. Those who declined to participate completed 8 sessions with the bilingual education teacher to improve academic skills in a small group-tutoring format.

The theoretical basis of the curriculum was social cognitive career theory (Lent, Brown & Hackett, 1994), which focuses on the connection among self-efficacy, outcome expectations and personal goals as influencers of a person’s career choice. Thus, the eight sessions focused on self-awareness, family history, and using career information.

  • Session One. Self-Awareness: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs.
    As the first order of business, students were asked to write out a set of group rules. The students created guidelines for attendance, standards for respectful communication, and agreements regarding group and individual rights to privacy and confidentiality. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs (Maslow, 1970) was presented followed by a discussion about the hierarchy and the concept of self-actualization. Students were asked to identify behaviors they thought would be associated with each level.

  • Session Two. Family of Origin: Work History Geneogram.
    The session began with a review of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Students made connections between the hierarchy and the world of work. This was followed by a description of a work history family of origin geneogram and a demonstration of using the geneogram to illustrate patterns of employment and productivity. For homework, students filled in a three-generation geneogram template with the names and responsibilities/jobs of family members. Given that parental support has been shown to predict career exploration (Leal-Muniz & Constantine, 2005) and work identity, (Fisher & Padmawidjaja, 1999), students were encouraged to seek the help of parents, siblings, and members of the extended family to complete the task.

  • Session Three. Values and Commitments.
    During this session, the discussion focused on the values and commitments embedded in the students’ family work histories. The discussion then moved to lifestyle choices and how those choices are shaped by values and commitments. Students were given a wide variety of magazines and asked to select images and phrases that reflected their values to create and subsequently present an Image Poster.

  • Session Four. How Much Is It Worth?
    Using information and advertisements from the Sunday editions of newspapers from various communities throughout the state, students were assigned a three-step task that they completed between sessions. First, they used advertisements to estimate the cost of the consumer goods they included in their image poster. Second, they calculated payment plans for the homes and autos selected, and constructed a budget based on these plans and additional living expenses. The third and final step of this task required them to identify careers, positions, and jobs available in the Classifieds that they might rely on to meet their budget.

  • Session Five. E - Hiking
    Using the computer lab at school, the students explored the O*NET and gathered information about the requirements and salaries of the careers, positions, and jobs they selected.

  • Session Six. Organizing the Information
    The counselors provided a life-size grid onto which the students entered their selected career opportunities, training/education required and salary range for each. This activity was followed by a discussion of their reaction to the information obtained. Many of the students appeared surprised at the amount of post-secondary education required for many fields. When encouraged to identify any patterns that emerged related to career requirements and salary range, most seemed unaware of the facts that years of formal education did not necessarily translate into substantially higher earnings.

  • Session Seven: What’s My Line?
    A panel of eight professionals from the community was presented to the students. The students were given a list of the careers, positions, and jobs held by the group. Based on appearances, students were asked to match panel member names with the career list. Their assessments were discussed. The discussion that ensued help to highlight assumption and bias that resulted from appearances. Finally, panelists briefly spoke of their own career path. All panelists were first-generation high school graduates, two were of Mexican-American decent.

  • Session Eight: Now, I’m on the line.
    Students met in small groups with the counselors to discuss job sites they wished to investigate. Preferences were matched with local employers who were willing to provide an opportunity for the students to visit the setting before the end of the term. The school arranged the visits and provided transportation.

The majority of students visited at least one job site. They were matched with an employee who was willing to give a tour of the facility and answer questions about their world of work. Feedback from the students indicated that the panel and job site visits were their favorite curriculum components. Parents were appreciative of the time they spent with their children during the construction of the Geneogram. Parents were also favorably impressed by the activities that linked the Image Posters with the realities of those lifestyles.

Fisher, T. A., & Padmawidjaja, I. (1999). Parental influences on career development perceived by African American and Mexican American college students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 27, 136-52.

Leal-Muniz, V., & Constantine, M. G. (2005). Predictors of the Career Commitment Process in Mexican American College Students. Journal of Career Assessment, 13, 204-215.

Lent, R., Brown, S. & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior 45, 79-122.

Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality (2nd ed.). New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published in 1954).

Cathleen Barrett, Ed.D., NCC, is an Associate Professor of Counseling and Coordinator of the School Counseling Program at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. She holds an Ed. D. in Counseling and Counselor Education from Indiana University. The focus of her scholarship is on the application of theory to practice. She can be reached at email barrett@sxu.edu

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