Before kids even get to high school they are assigned a career cluster code in middle school. Antonio Perez, career counselor at South Omaha Magnet High School, those codes are run through a college and career readiness software system called Naviance so students may be matched up with potential career options.
But that’s not all, career counselors go into the classrooms, conduct lessons and offer students strength finders, career exploration surveys and interest surveys. It’s all meant to help students find a few choices for their future.
Some of this work is done inside of class and some outside, in both larger groups and small group settings.
“At the end of the day, making sure kids graduate from high school is great but the ultimate goal is to get them to that next step, whatever it is,” said Antonio.
He acknowledges not every student will do well on the same path and college isn’t for everyone. That’s why he feels it’s important to explore all the possibilities with his students. Each and every one has the potential for a great future. He said they just need to find the road that’s right for them.
And that’s where Antonio comes in, “I tell my students what I see on your transcripts doesn’t tell me what you’re capable of and college is not necessarily the right choice for everyone. At South we do a good job of trying to explore all the avenues,” he said.
Students may take classes at the TAC building’s Career Center in subjects like auto tech, photography, broadcasting and nursing. With these courses, students get hands-on experience and get a break from doing book work all day.
South Omaha Magnet also works with the Career Academy at Metro. Students enrolled there spend a half day in class at South and a half day doing hands on work at Metro.
Job Corps is another avenue available to students. Where some kids are disciplined enough to go to a two year or four year college with less structure, some kids need more structure. Job Corps provides more assistance but still has the college type feel where students can work at their own pace.
Antonio helps those that have good grades and want to go to a four year school achieve their dreams. And he also helps those that maybe don’t have the best grades find some other possibilities to consider. He explained he wants make sure they have all the information they need to make the best decision possible.
South Omaha Magnet holds individual planning sessions with students every year. When they meet with juniors, the parents are invited to attend the session so that all choices may be considered for the student’s future.
“When I meet with them I ask what they want to do or what they are interested in, specifically what they can see themselves doing for a long time,” said Antonio.
He said there are some challenges specific to South Omaha Magnet High School. In their senior class, 40% will be first generation high school graduates. So when they are talking about college, some of these kids may get scared. Antonio said they sometimes freak out because they are worried they will be alone in college and will not have the same level of support.
Some are not sure they can make it through, “Parents may not understand the pressure the student is under. They may expect the student to work full time and do well in college too and sometimes that’s not possible,” he said.
Another challenge is the school’s high mobility rate. Kids come and go all the time at South Omaha Magnet. Antonio said they had 400 new students since the beginning of the school year and more than 130 have since left. He believes it’s the highest mobility rate of any school in the district.
At his school, Antonio said student interest seems to be high in the healthcare field, specifically nursing. Other career options that are popular include auto mechanics, business and the IT field.
He said kids are being properly educated in English and Spanish in the school’s dual language program.
Flexibility is key when thinking about a career. Antonio advises kids to think about what they are interested in but also to remain flexible. He recently talked with one student who wanted to become a nurse but after some quick research realized she could be paid more with less schooling as a pharmacy technician, a career field she had not even considered. So he tells students not to get stuck on one thing.
The school offers students the opportunity to job shadow each fall for juniors and seniors but Antonio said he is happy to set up job shadowing whenever a student wants to do it. It’s a great way to find out if a particular career may be right for a student.
Antonio said his favorite part of the jobs is helping kids be successful.
“I love to be a small part of it. They do the work and I help point them in the right direction,” he said.