March 8, 2012

Last week, more than 25,000 North Carolina middle schoolers swapped their classrooms for offices, cubicles and conference rooms as they took a sneak peak into their futures and learned more about possible careers. As a part of the statewide Students@Work week, two bright and engaging students from Heritage Middle School visited the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh to shadow our Chief Academic Officer and Deputy Academic Officer. And while these students came to us, I also traveled to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte to speak with a group of 20 students from Harris Road Middle School about my career.

I shared with these students that, while my professional journey may not have been as dangerous as racecar driving, I believe it has been filled with excitement and more than a few twists and turns. From my first job peeling tomatoes in a canning factory to serving as a secretary for a private investigator, selling apparel at Sears and then teaching business to high schoolers, the jobs I have held have taught me valuable lessons and paved the road that led me to where I am today.

My professional life has been all about exploring different interests and options and seeing what fits. That is also what Students@Work week was all about. Students across the state had an opportunity to learn more about potential careers, but more importantly, they learned more about themselves. Now they can use this knowledge as they begin to think about the courses they will take and the activities they may want to participate in during high school. And by visiting workplaces and talking to adults employed in a variety of professions, these middle school students also can see that earning a high school diploma must be one of the first steps they will take toward achieving their goals for the future.

It is no secret that when young people connect what they are learning in class to skills they may need in a career, school becomes more relevant, learning becomes fun and more students graduate. That is why I encourage parents, teachers and community members to find ways to help our students explore career possibilities, not just for one week, but throughout the year. When you speak to a class, participate in a school's career day, host an intern, or simply have a conversation with students about your career, you are helping them make valuable connections that will shape their futures.




June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent