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A school focused series: Celebrating 10 years of the Career-related Programme

Chris Downs, Career-related Programme (CP) Coordinator at North Hagerstown High School in Maryland, US, helps us celebrate 10 years of the CP by sharing why the programme is so well suited to his school.

What is your school’s background with the IB?

When I first came to North Hagerstown High School in the fall of 2015, I was not well-versed in the background or history of why the IB Diploma Programme (DP) existed in the school. The perception around the school district was that the DP was for the academically elite. When I was given the opportunity to become one of the Lead Teachers at North Hagerstown, I was able to interact with teachers on a daily basis as an instructional coach, and I was able to get a sense of not only what the IB was all about, but also how the global approach gave our students the opportunity to think outside the box. I clearly understood the benefits the IB brought to the kids and to the school – and in turn, the wider community.

How did your school get involved with the Career-related Programme (CP)?

With the arrival of a new principal at the school, one of the goals was to provide more access to the IB for our students. We travelled to Chicago for the IB Americas Regional Conference in 2015. During the “meet up” sessions, we wandered into the CP group, where we met someone who was very passionate about the CP and essentially hooked us. For our team at North Hagerstown, we viewed it as a way to increase access, as well as to bring more Career-related studies to our school in a mutually beneficial way. That we already had the DP made it that much easier to integrate!  After almost 20 years as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator, it finally “clicked” with me – there was finally an option that could reach our kids that were more focused and ready to commit to a course of study, while attempting to stretch themselves academically.

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Tell us more about your journey with the CP

We chose to offer the CP and centre it around our new Hospitality and Tourism pathway. The state of Maryland has been placing a great deal of emphasis on career education, and this was the perfect way to start. We also had a very dynamic teacher who we knew was going to be the perfect fit for the personal and professional skills (PPS) course. Subsequently, she became the career-related studies (CRS) department leader and served as our chief recruiter and means of support for the other CRS teachers. In short, the PPS coordinator is of the utmost importance in establishing the CP. Her background in service learning as our former student council advisor enabled us to make in-roads within the community, establishing a partnership with a local hospitality group that owns hotels in the Hilton brand. Our students began to get experiences that were practical, useful, and mutually beneficial – resulting in some of our students gaining access to summer employment. One of our first graduates even went to work for them right after graduation, and her IB background allowed them to move her directly into the management track for the national chain.  This example gave us a springboard to foster other relationships for more CRS pathways – notably our agreement with the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, who has our state’s only bachelor’s degree in Hospitality. Our Audiovisual and Broadcast Technology students are supported by a local cable company, and we are currently working to develop a relationship with the Savannah College of Art and Design for our Interactive Media Production students. These partnerships are of paramount importance, and create legitimacy within our community. While we are still a relatively new offer to North Hagerstown, my position as a regional association (IB Mid-Atlantic) board member, as well as within the IB Educator Network, has offered opportunities to connect locally, nationally, and globally with CP colleagues from around the world – ultimately of benefit to our own school and school system.

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Chris Downs is the CP Coordinator at North Hagerstown High School in Maryland. He is also involved as a board member with the IB Mid-Atlantic regional association and with IBEN (IB Educator Network).