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Bringing a school counselor perspective to our career readiness work

School counselor perspective for career readiness work

By Joni Wackwitz
February 26, 2018

The newest member of the Midwest Career Readiness Research Alliance (MCRRA), Leah Zimmerman, is a licensed school counselor at Crookston High School in Minnesota. This rural school, located about 5 hours north of Minneapolis, serves approximately 550 students in Grades 7–12. There, Zimmerman and another school counselor provide students with academic guidance, career and college planning, and social-emotional support.

Showing true dedication to her profession, Zimmerman also serves as the current president of the Minnesota School Counselors Association (MSCA). With some 700 members statewide, MSCA works to promote excellence in the field of school counseling through advocacy, professional development, networking and events, and other supports.

This dual focus makes Zimmerman an ideal fit for MCRRA, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest’s Minnesota-based partnership that is examining the career readiness and pathways of Minnesota public high school graduates. “As a school counselor and representing Minnesota’s school counselors, I hope that I can bring some insight into the actual challenges on the ground, what works or doesn’t work or what would be helpful or not,” says Zimmerman.

Zimmerman also brings to the alliance a passion for helping students discover their unique paths in life. Her own far-ranging career path includes serving as a missionary in Uganda, an AmeriCorps program director at Colorado State University, and a volleyball and basketball coach at Crookston High School before becoming a school counselor 4 years ago. But it was in her first job, working with teens as a youth outreach specialist in Minneapolis, that she realized her life calling. “When I would meet with students, I kept thinking that I could help them more if I was at their school, where they spent the majority of their time,” she says.

Drawing on her personal career experiences, Zimmerman seeks to help all her students determine what career success means for them, starting with that next step after high school. “Is it a four-year program, a two-year program, a certificate program, volunteering with AmeriCorps for a year, a job? There are lots of different options,” she notes.

To help students chart their career paths, Zimmerman goes into classrooms or meets with students individually throughout the school year. She administers skills assessments and interest inventories, shares information on different professions and their requirements, and assists with students’ Personal Learning Plans. These state-mandated plans guide secondary students as they make academic decisions and explore potential careers.

Zimmerman also hosts events and partners with local business leaders and postsecondary institutions to educate parents and the community about the ever-changing world of work. “Compared to even 5 years ago, some jobs that needed more education, their programs have condensed down to 2 years,” she explains, “and they’re really good-paying jobs.”

Excited to be a part of MCRRA, Zimmerman attended her first REL Midwest partnership meeting in mid-January. She was pleased to learn the alliance is working to address what she sees as a key need in the state—more state-level guidance around career and college readiness goals. State initiatives, such as Minnesota’s World’s Best Workforce, and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act have given school districts more flexibility in how they support and measure career and college readiness. But this increased flexibility has left some districts—and school counselors—looking for more information on the state’s goals and how best to achieve them.

Zimmerman hopes that the work the research alliance is doing will help answer some of these questions. And on a more individual level, she hopes to learn how to better serve her students in achieving their individual career and life goals.

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Author(s) Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


Achievement Gap (12)

Career Readiness (14)

Early Childhood (4)

Education Technology (7)

English Learners (2)

Research Methods (7)

Teacher Preparation (8)

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