The Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) recommendation is that the American high school will have to reinvent itself by establishing a career center of the twenty-first century. This will be a mechanism for equipping all students with career and college readiness (ACTE, 2006). This 21st century career center will be an integrated, multifunctional education service that is available to all stakeholders. In the State of Mississippi, a center such as this is located in high schools and referred to as the S.T.A.R.T. Center-Student, Teacher, and Adult Research and Technology Center. As part of the high school redesign initiative, this center is supported by state funding and expands the traditional career center role from that of a typical information provider to an extension of the high school media center and counseling program. S.T.A.R.T. provides a menu of support services including academic enrichment, college and career preparation, counseling, access to online courses, adult education, research and information literacy skill development, technology access, lending library, and other services to students as needed.
In today's fast-paced and information-saturated environment, S.T.A.R.T. centers are an essential resource in helping counselors provide career and educational data to parents and students. Hoyt (2005) argues that career educators must work as a collaborative team and are truly responsible for making sure parents and students have a grasp of all the choices available. S.T.A.R.T. centers may serve as the outreach arm for high schools to keep parents engaged in students' career development process.
The center as a core community service provider is available to all community patrons during and beyond school hours through flexible scheduling that is most appropriate for each individual school district and its community's needs (Bradburn, 2006). Many Mississippians have limited access to internet capabilities at home (Lake, 2008). The center will serve the entire learning community to widen access to technology. Furthermore, Mississippi students in smaller school districts do not have the plethora of courses as those in larger school districts. Online course offerings will help to close the gap in meeting the needs of underserved populations (Stansbury, 2008). The center will be a place where students have access to technology and a knowledgeable online course facilitator to complete courses through the virtual high school and postsecondary dual enrollment courses.
The 21st century career center is not a "one-dimensional approach to disseminating information" (Schutt, p. 194). In collaboration with the high school media center, the S.T.A.R.T. Center provide print, audio, video, online, developmental assessment, and interactive resources as well as lessons, workshops, and symposia on pertinent career and educational development topics. Learning experiences are developed in collaboration with the career development team and include development of information literacy skills that help learners research, identify, evaluate, and use all types of information effectively (Lau, 2006). It is essential, according to Kazis (2005), for high-quality support to be provided for student success in a more rigorous curriculum.
S.T.A.R.T. centers are equipped with new technologies and operate under a new vision that requires retooling of existing career center directors and staff. Twenty-first century career center directors do not work in isolation (Schutt, 2008). The center functions as an extension program meaning that the director will work closely with the educators in all areas to develop and deliver high-quality programs and services along with managing the day-to-day operations. Flexible staffing arrangements should be established to accommodate hours beyond the school day. Center directors are encouraged to use parent volunteers and local postsecondary student workers to assist in providing services during extended hours.
In addition, advisory boards for the S.T.A.R.T. Center represent a cross section of the stakeholders including local information technology staff at the district and building levels to ensure reliable and equitable access for all stakeholders (Schutt, 2008). Users of the center will have meaningful engagement in career and educational experiences using a variety of technology while enhancing proficiency of the 21st century skills learned in their coursework.
Lastly, the goal of the S.T.A.R.T. Center is to empower its users to become career and information literate for the 21st century workforce. Career counselors will find the S.T.A.R.T. Center a valuable component of the overall career development program, including integration of academics, college and career readiness activities, access to online courses, adult education courses, research and information literacy skill development, technology access, lending library, and other services to students as needed.
Association for Career and Technical Education. (2006). Reinventing the American high school for the 21st century: A position paper. Retrieved March 13, 2008, from http://www.acteonline.org
Bradburn, F. (2006). 21st century schools. Retrieved March 3, 2008, from http://www.dpi.state.nc.us
Hoyt, K. B. (2005). Career education: History and future. Tulsa, OK: National Career Development Association.
Kazis, R. (2005). Remaking career and technical education for the 21st century: What role for high school programs? Retrieved August 31, 2008, from http://www.aspeninstitute.org
Lake, R. (2008). Limited access: Over half of Mississippians must leave home to get on the Internet. Retrieved March 26, 2008, from http://www.clarionledger.com
Lau, J. (206). Guidelines on information literacy for lifelong learning. Retrieved August 10, 2008, from http://www.ifla.org
National High School Center. (2008). Preparing high school students for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment. Retrieved August 31, 2008, from http://www.betterhighschools.org
Schutt, D.A. (2008). How to plan and develop a career center (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Ferguson Publishing.
Stansbury, M. (2008). Educators discuss how online courses can help meet underserved students' needs and fulfill course requirements. Retrieved April 11, 2008, from http://www.eschoolnews.com
State Educational Technology Directors Association. (2007). Maximizing the impact: The pivotal role of technology in a 21st century education system. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from http://www.setda.org
Shelley H. Bock, PhD, is Associate Director of the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. She leads initiatives in the areas of workforce education and training, provides oversight for public relations, the RCU Media Center, and publications. Shelley also directs the Mississippi Vocational Exemplary Teaching Program. Prior to coming to the RCU, she served as a middle school teacher and librarian. She earned her PhD in educational administration and is a National Board Certified Teacher® in School Library Media. Her research interests include national board certification, teacher evaluation and coaching, career development, and information literacy. To contact Shelley: firstname.lastname@example.org .