Will Privratsky smiling with books

Senior Emma Helgerson has gone on emergency calls in a fire truck. She’s practiced rescue scenarios with mannequins in the Panther pool, extracted them out of cars, and pushed them on stretchers. She’s even learned the basics of delivering a baby. 

“Everything you can imagine, we did!” says Emma. When she graduates next spring, she will have gone deep into the Health and Human Services pathway at Spring Lake Park High school, taking many courses aligned with her emerging interests. If anything, her pandemic experiences have made Emma even more passionate about pursuing a healthcare career. 

Classmate Will Privratsky has taken college-level courses while at the high school and is racking up the college credits.

“I feel that being in quarantine gave me an opportunity to look more deeply into topics that I enjoy and has helped me focus on what kind of major I want to pursue,” he says.

When Emma and Will graduate in the spring, they have a pretty good idea of their next steps. They’ve engaged in programs like Career and College Pathways and 12 by 12 and had the support to learn how they learn best. Our goal is that when each student graduates from Spring Lake Park Schools, they have mastered essential life skills, experienced college-level rigor, and have a sense of career paths that may bring them joy and success. 

Exploring careers

Emma’s first encounter with the high school’s Career and College Pathways was her freshman year. That’s when she enrolled in her first pathways course - First Aid/CPR. 

Senior Emma H. working on a heart diagram

Senior Emma Helgerson

“I instantly fell in love with the program and wanted to advance my learning by taking more courses in the Health and Human Services pathway and specifically Opportunities in Emergency Care,” says Emma.

The Career and College Pathways each represent a specific industry or sector with a predicted need for future jobs. There are sets of courses within three pathways -- Business and Entrepreneurship; Health and Human Services; and, Technology, Engineering and Design. 

Courses within each pathway provide real-world experience as students develop skills within a field and opportunities to explore different career options and even earn college credit. Students can sample courses in many Pathways or take all the courses within a specific pathway, like Emma.

During her junior year she completed EMT 1 and EMT 2, re-certified in CPR and passed the psychomotor exam. This year, she’s taking the Nursing Assistant course and hoping to get certified as a RNA (registered nursing assistant).

“Being in the medical field is something I've always wanted to be a part of for almost my entire life and I was so thrilled to know Spring Lake Park offers many programs that fit my interest and could start my journey early on in high school,” says Emma. “I have a really good head start on my medical career along with a lot more preparation and knowledge. My ultimate dream is going to the Mayo School of Medicine.”

Emma’s found more than a career interest and path.

“Opportunities in Emergency Care not only helped me prepare for my journey in the medical field, it also taught me other great basic life skills as well,” says Emma. “From communication skills to perseverance, kindness, bravery, and so much more. The program doesn’t just teach you how to save a life, but also to be a better you.”

Earning college credit

High School students taking a Pathways course getting feedback from a local community business owner

SLPHS students taking a Business and Entrepreneurship course getting feedback on a project from a local community business owner.

Many career pathways courses have a college credit component. In fact, Spring Lake Park High School has an aggressive goal - that each student have the opportunity to earn 12 college-level credits by the end of 12th grade. There are a variety of options - Advanced Placement (AP) courses, College in the Schools, embedded college, articulated college credit and more. 

“The 12 by 12 programs are really important because they give students the opportunity to pursue free college credit while still in the supportive environment of high school,” says Will. “The best part is the community of support built around the difficult courses. Because the content is so difficult, everyone comes together to learn as a group rather than more traditional, individual classwork.”

Will has taken AP and College in the Schools courses and discovered an interest in engineering and applied math. He also took the Minnesota State University Makato Spanish course for college credit. He’s already thinking about pursuing a Spanish major or minor along with his chosen career path.

“Overall, experience with these courses has given me a lot of perspective on making decisions about my post-high school life. The opportunity to take college-level classes has given me insights about course rigor and time management,” says Will. “I am grateful to have more rigorous classes in high school. Having experience with college classes makes me feel confident about going to college.”

Making a plan, getting support 

Finding the right career, college and life path takes time. It starts with knowing yourself as a learner - knowing how you learn best. We’re working toward each student at Spring Lake Park Schools having a documented Learner Profile that they author alongside their teachers and provides insights and details on who they are as a learner. 

A SLPHS student smiling with a cupcake

Each year, the SLPHS Counseling Office holds a Decision Day event to celebrate students as they decide what comes next.

The Learner Profile is started in preschool or kindergarten and updated throughout the K-12 experience as students discover their interests, strengths and needs as a learner. In addition, Learner maps help students plan for learning aligned to their interests and needs as well as graduation requirements and goals. Each profile and map is different, just like each student. 

As students reach high school, they are encouraged to explore. Taking a variety of courses provides an opportunity to find their interests and start discovering their passions. Athletics and activities, which nearly 85 percent of students engage in, also provide paths to discovery.

“Every experience and class I took showed me what I liked and didn’t like,” says Emma. “Course choices opened my eyes to emergency medicine and the fast pace of it which was something I didn’t think I would like.”

Six counselors and one career and college readiness counselor are ready and prepared to support each student on their unique journey. The options extend far beyond the traditional 4-year college. There are also 2-year colleges, trade schools, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), the military and more.

“We’re here to support and offer assistance to students regardless of what direction they are headed after high school. We know not every child’s path should be the same and we know there are exceptional opportunities in any path they decide to take,” says Jen Blaido, career and college readiness counselor. 

In addition to courses, students have the opportunity to engage with many different career, college and military events throughout the year. This year, that will include - 1-on-1 meetings, class meetings, financial planning events, college application help events, visits with college representatives and virtual college fairs. 

“Virtual opportunities have been a good addition during the pandemic and colleges and businesses have created great virtual learning experiences,” says Jen. “Counselors have also been able to use WebEx as an alternative to in-person meetings - whatever works best for students and their families in order to continue to support them.”

Jen emphasizes that the work students put in pays off and there is no right or wrong answer.

I do truly believe kids shouldn't have to know exactly what they want to do when they leave high school but they should absolutely know what they love, what they are good at and how they learn and communicate with others. While they are still with us, we want them to know and be prepared for their next step toward becoming successful adults and contributors to the community. Jen Blaido, career and college readiness counselor

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