Focus on career readiness paying dividends for AHS graduates

a student looks for a job on a job board
A students examines the job board in the Career Resource Center at Amsterdam High School. Here, students are able to obtain assistance with job applications, view current job openings, get work paper applications and practice interviewing.

One of the proudest moments in a young adult’s life is walking across the stage and receiving a high school diploma in front of their family and friends. The diploma is a universal symbol of educational accomplishment since the age of 5, setting the foundation for continued achievement for teens in college and careers.

But how truly ready are graduates when they leave high school? A study published in Forbes magazine, in 2019, shows that just 5 percent of U.S. adults believe that high school graduates are prepared for success in the workplace. Why? … because many of today’s teens have never experienced it. In fact, they are the least working generation in U.S. history.

Today’s young adults (between the ages of 15-21) are much less likely to have had a paid summer job or to have been employed compared to every previous generation for which data exists. In 1948 and 1978, 57% and 58% of 16-19 year-olds had a paid summer job. By 2017, only 35% reported having a summer job. The percentage of 15-17 year-olds who reported working in any fashion dropped from 48% in 1968 to a mere 19% some 50 years later.

These data represent a stunning collapse in the work experience of young adults in America. But the Greater Amsterdam School District is making strides to buck that trend at Amsterdam High School.

For the past several years, Amsterdam High School has offered something called the CDOS program. CDOS, which stands for Career Development and Occupational Studies, is a set of specific graduation standards endorsed by the NYS Education Department. A growing number of AHS graduates are earning the CDOS Commencement Credential along with their diploma.

“The CDOS program is a game changer,” said high school Work Based Learning Coordinator Jennifer White. “More and more local businesses are aware of CDOS and what it signifies, and so a student who is graduating with both a diploma and the CDOS Credential can be seen as more marketable and the better candidate for employment.”

Statistics released to the GASD Industry Advisory Board this fall show that:

  • Of the 268 high school seniors who graduated in 2021, 42 percent combined the CDOS Commencement Credential with their diploma.
  • In the past 5 years, between 42 and 45 percent of graduating senior, each year, have earned the CDOS Commencement Credential.
  • The district is again tracking more than 100 seniors in the Class of 2022 for the CDOS Commencement Credential and expect that number to grow as new jobs/employers are added to the program.

A student can earn a CDOS Commencement Credential at Amsterdam High School in one of four ways:

  • Pass two years of an approved CTE program.
  • Pass a minimum of two years of Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC I and ROTC II).
  • Pass at least one elective Business class and work a part-time job for a minimum of 100 hours.
  • Pass at least one elective Business class and participate in the high school Work Based Learning program. Students in this program work at various community businesses during the school day.

A CDOS Commencement Credential is a great endorsement to put on a resume, job or college application. As a bonus, it can also be used to replace a fifth Regents exam as a pathway to graduation.

“Being able to earn school credits and/or replace a Regents exam through this program can literally be the difference between earning a diploma or not,” White said.

Two Work Based Learning programs offers at AHS

There are two Work Based Learning programs offered at Amsterdam High School. The Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) is open to 14 and 15-year-old “at risk” students. Students who complete the WECEP can earn the CDOS Credential, as well as earn up to one academic credit for 300 work hours. The General Education Work Experience Program (GEWEP) is offered to any student 16 years old and up. The students who complete the GEWEP earn the CDOS Credential, as well as the opportunity to earn two academic credits for 600 work hours. Students may participate in either program or both, through the high school’s community work program or by securing an after-school job.

Some local employers partnering with Amsterdam High School’s community work program include Hill and Markes, Grow Amsterdam NY, Flooring Authority Inc., Alpin Haus, Ashley Furniture, Tractor Supply, Montgomery County SPAC, Creative Connections Clubhouse, and Joseph P. Mangione-Locksmith.

“The CDOS program is important. These kids need to learn how to work – what it takes to get and keep a job. This program is helping teach those skills. The Clubhouse has been a jobsite for a few CDOS students over the past few years. We always appreciate the extra hands, and we try to teach them that work ethic”, said John Sumpter, Director of Outreach, Creative Connections Clubhouse.

All high school students have the opportunity to participate in Work Based Learning activities. For the past six years, a group of high school students have run a very successful coffee cart program, affording them the opportunity to practice a variety of communication and customer service skills, while earning money for class activities.

Overseeing WBL initiatives is the GASD Industry Advisory Council, a required component of both WECEP and GEWEP. The council meets twice a year and allows community employers to collaborate with school counselors and Business class teachers on gaps in skills they are seeing in their (potential) employees.

“This allows us as educators to tailor instruction and practices to meet the needs of employers and ensure students are marketable when they seek employment,” explained Christine Smith, GASD Director of Special Education/Student Support Services.

Some of the Business classes offered at Amsterdam High School this school year include Career Exploration, College and Career Readiness, Computer Applications, Digital Media, and Yearbook. Offering college credit through an AHS-Fulton-Montgomery Community College (FMCC) partnership are courses in Business and Personal Law, Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

Going virtual during COVID-19

COVID-19 has not stopped this program from continuing. During the height of the pandemic and again this school year, NYSED has directed school districts to exercise flexibility in Work Based Learning allowing programs to continue in any combination of remote, virtual, and/or on-site formats. This has included remote information sessions with industry professionals, virtual live guess speakers, virtual job shadowing and career exploration and planning.

For example, Amazon recently launched an online program called Class Chats. This platform allows students to speak with “Amazonians” about their career pathways in technology. Class Chat volunteers share their personal career stories and insights into work and answer students’ questions. Students also experience virtual tours of Amazon warehouse facilities.

students view a smart board in the classroom
Amsterdam High School students learn about careers and employers by interacting with them live and virtually in their classroom using Nepris. Through Nepris, students are able to set up discussions, take job tours, simulate interviews and more.

Another online program, Nepris, connects educators and Amsterdam High School learners with a network of industry professionals throughout the school year, bringing real-world relevance and career exposure to students.

“Nepris was critical during the pandemic for providing career exploration opportunities when it was not safe to go on-site and learn in person,” Smith said. “Nepris, as an online platform, provides students/teachers virtual access to any career you can imagine. Students are able to set up discussions, take job tours, simulate interviews and more.”

In addition, with the help of Jennifer White and Carley Green, the high school recently established a Career Resource Center to support students’ needs finding and retaining a job. Here, students are able to obtain assistance with job applications, view current job openings, get work paper applications and practice interviewing.

“We have built a solid CDOS program here at AHS and we are proud of the positive impact it has had on the school and business communities,” White said. “It truly is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

GASD also created a new position this school year, Career Exploration and Transition Specialist, filled by Carley Green. Green works with 14-15-year-old students in the WECEP and collaborates with the middle school Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) teachers to ensure students are thinking about careers early on and beginning to learn the necessary skills needed for employment.

If any student is interested in learning more about the CDOS program, please email [email protected] or [email protected] or call (518) 843-4932, X1503.

girl watches a man on a computer screen
Lynch Literacy Academy held its first Virtual Career Day held last February. LAA students learned about careers in Medicine, Culinary Arts, Law Enforcement, Interior Design, Computer Science and more.