Career Connection in St. Paul
02 February 2022
Students are presented with many decisions as they complete high school. College applications, attendance decisions versus entering a career field immediately are just a few. Together with rising education costs and high-demand job openings, those decisions can feel weighty and stressful.
The Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) in Ramsey County attempts to assist students along that path. Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed the importance of career and technical education by allowing students to connect with businesses in different ways, such as an internship, or remote-work option.
“We are able to get students to understand more about their future opportunities through actionable activities,” said Bre Galuska, Partnership Specialist with SPPS Office of College and Career Readiness.
The CTE Program is designed to prepare students for success through a rigorous and project-based curriculum. More than 120 courses in Agriculture, Business, Communications, Construction, Family and Consumer Sciences, Medical Careers, Engineering and Work-Based Learning are offered throughout the district’s high schools.
“Our goal is to provide students with a resume full of experiences to help determine their interests and passions throughout high school as they plan for post-secondary options, all with the support of a group of caring adults who help them navigate the process,” said Galuska. “Counselors used to ask students where they want to apply for college, but now, students discover what they are good at or passionate about and then map a course from that.”
One segment of the CTE Program is Career Pathways, where students explore four career fields of Science & Medical, Human Services, Business & Communications and Innovative & Emerging Technologies. Students have access to a full range of post-secondary options in high-wage, in-demand careers, with the ability to earn college credit, certifications, credentials, internships, job training and career exploration through industry partnerships.
SPPS staff work with area resources like MN DEED, RealTime Talent, Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul to ensure school programming meets the needs of the community. Health care experiences are popular, both on the patient side and in health informatics and insurance. Many construction, architecture and engineering companies are involved with internships because they cannot recruit enough applicants currently.
“As we educate the students, we want them to realize there are high-demand jobs right here in their communities,” said Galuska.
Two unique programs complement the Career Pathways program. The first is Earn as You Learn, a program where SPPS students work to explore interests and earn credentials to show work readiness, all while earning a $300 stipend. The other is , a school-year internship program between SPPS, the City of Saint Paul’s Right Track program, local businesses and community-based organizations to provide employment opportunities and professional skills training for youth.
“Both programs allow the students to know their community is behind their ultimate success,” said Hannah Chan, Career Pathways Coordinator.
Chan connected with Megan Ryan, Vice President of Marketing and Communication with the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, about projects for interns in 2021. Ryan was amazed by the skills and abilities possessed by each, including Sandra Tougnon, who assisted the Chamber with several projects, such as building a database of the business clubs at the area colleges and universities.
“She did such a fantastic job, creating one of the most beautiful spreadsheets I have ever seen,” said Ryan. “Her excellent work had a multiplier effect for the Chamber, as many of the groups Tougnon contacted have continued to network with the Chamber and other organizations.”
That momentum led Tougnon to other projects, such as a marketing project for the annual golf tournament of the Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce.
“I started with creating marketing materials, like advertisements and banners, but attending the event and networking with its members built confidence to see my potential as a leader,” said Tougnon.
She was encouraged to participate in the SPPS school-year internship program as a junior at a teacher’s urging, without really knowing what she wanted to do after high school. Now the experience has pointed her toward business management and is awaiting an application decision Washington University in St. Louis.
“I highly recommend fellow students take advantage of the opportunities present through the CTE programs, with a positive attitude seeking to learn,” she said. “You really cannot go wrong by inviting opportunities to be in a better position to develop your future.”
One unique internship opportunity arose as Chan, identifying a need to help students, reached out to the FoolProof Foundation, an organization focused on improving the financial literacy of students from middle school to college. FoolProof typically hires college students as interns to offer explanations and advice on financial literacy to others similar in age to them. One local intern, Sarita Toledo from LEAP High School in St. Paul, went above and beyond the role requirements as junior in high school. After completing the internship, FoolProof hired Toledo as a Student Ambassador, a paid role to create videos and articles for its online modules to share her personal learnings in the financial arena.
Additionally, Toledo built FoolProof’s entire Spanish portion of its website, including translating 17 articles and 10 video transcripts, which allowed FoolProof to advance its adult financial literacy. The entire experience allowed her to develop the confidence to build connections in a work setting, while applying her dual language skills.
“I have always wanted to help Spanish speakers be better able to understand their surroundings, and translating this important financial material is extremely meaningful,” she said. “This was the first opportunity I really have had to apply both my English and Spanish skills to help others.”
Now Toledo plans to build on that confidence gained through her internship as she attends Denison University to study biochemistry and hopefully go on to medical school.
“Sarita is one of the most hard-working and conscientious persons I have met, and she is only 17 years old,” said FoolProof Director of Education, Mike Sheffer. “There is something great occurring with these students and St. Paul Public Schools, because this isn’t a skill that just happens; it has to be taught.”
For businesses and organizations who would like to partner with the SPPS school year internship program, please click on this link.