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School districts across the commonwealth kicked off Operation Preparation this week.
The goal of the statewide effort is for eighth-grade and sophomore students to receive college and career advice from trained community advisors.
"We want to help students realize their potential, maximize their academic preparation and stay on track for success during and after high school," Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said.
The program, which was endorsed by Gov. Steve Beshear with a proclamation declaring March 12-16 Operation Preparation College and Career Advising Week, gives individual districts the freedom to institute the program however they like.
The program follows the signing by all of Kentucky’s superintendents and boards of education the Commonwealth Commitment, a pledge to increase college and career readiness rates at their high schools by 50 percent by 2015. In 2011, Shelby County's high schools surpassed their college and career ready goals, with Shelby County High School ranked 11th in the state and Collins 16th.
This week, Shelby County Public Schools is bringing in nearly 100 community members with assorted backgrounds to talk to about 1,000 students, focusing on their career aspirations, and this is required training, whether or not the student is on target to his or her goals and/or taking the courses recommended to prepare for their fields of choice.
"First of all, I am overwhelmed with the response from the community to help with what could have been an overwhelming task," said Susan Dugle, the curriculum coordinator who helped lead the project. "However, with their involvement, every eighth- and tenth-grader is having access to an adult conversation about their college or career path."
Volunteers went through a short training session that showed them how to use the students' Individual Learning Plans.
But it wasn't just about study and courses. Volunteers were encouraged to get to know the students, what interests them and how they could help find that right career path.
And those conversations are paying off immediately.
"The enthusiasm from the kids has been overwhelming because they are getting a one-on-one conversation with adults that care," said Christina Olsson, who works with the Family Resource and Youth Service Center at Shelby County High School and has helped lead the project at the school. "I know I've been incredibly impressed with the results."
Dugle said she's seen the benefits of this interaction already, when she overheard the closing conversation with District Judge Donna Dutton.
"The 10th-grader actually stopped and thanked the judge for giving of her time," she said. "That made me realize even the students understood the importance of this project."
Olsson said the students also have left the volunteers with lasting impressions.
"They [the volunteers] have been so impressed with the kids," she said. "There has been a real connection made there, talking about their futures."
Volunteers were asked to take notes, which lead Dugle to believe the work from this week won't end on March 16 as Operation Preparation comes to a close.
"There will be follow-up in a number of ways to help the students achieve their goals," she said.