Throughout the state, educators are pushed to better prepare students for college. They’re beefing up curriculum, partnering with universities, bringing in specialists and urging students to take advanced classes.

But there’s another side to life after high school: the workforce. New education standards also call for educators to prepare students for careers, making them good employees as well as successful college students.

In 2010, nearly 15 percent of Bowling Green High School seniors were employed shortly after graduation - the highest rate of students entering the workforce since 2006. In Warren County Public Schools, nearly 25 percent of students were employed, a jump from 2009 when 13 percent had jobs after graduation, according to data from the Kentucky Department of Education.

In both districts, most high school graduates attended college, and some had full-time jobs while taking college classes, according to the data.

Locally, training and co-op programs are offered in high schools, giving students experience in fields they’re interested in pursuing. Teachers are intertwining workforce skills with academic curriculum, and students are keeping track of their experience and their goals as early as middle school.

Some schools are offering new classes pertaining to careers and money management, and all schools are concentrating on 21st century skills, officials say.

“A lot of people just think of technology skills when you say ‘21st century skills,’ ” said Jennifer Davis, director of elementary and secondary programs for Bowling Green Independent Schools. “But quite honestly, there’s a lot more to it … it includes things like global awareness, innovation, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and technology.”

Those are skills that some students have lacked after leaving high school, some say.

Eugenia Scott teaches communication classes at Bowling Green Technical College, and the most prevalent problem she encounters is a lack of critical thinking skills, she said.

“They’re not used to thinking for themselves,” Scott said. “They want you to tell them every little thing to do.”

Raven Russell of Bowling Green is pursuing a career in radiology and stenography at BGTC. She graduated from high school in 2010.

“In high school, they tell you what to do,” Russell said, “whereas in college, they’re having you utilize your skills.”

It’s not necessarily a negative scenario, Russell said, because in some high school classes, she needed a hands-on teacher. For example, when Russell took an Advanced Placement English class, she was overwhelmed until her teacher gave her special assistance.

“It was a culture shock. It was a shock altogether, an education shock,” she said. “In high school you do need … that one-on-one help.”

But for others, high school did the opposite. Whitney Jones of Auburn, a BGTC student who graduated high school in 2007, had problems with critical thinking when she entered college. In too many cases, teachers simply told students what to do or actually did the work for students, Jones said.

“When I got here, I struggled starting a paper,” she said, adding that for her high school writing portfolio, “we took pieces from middle school and tweaked them, which was ridiculous.”

Scott has been working for years to combat that problem, and turn students into good employees. If students struggle, she will help them, but they are then expected to complete projects on their own. She teaches students to speak in public, to properly communicate and to become good listeners.

“The more you keep on speaking, the better you get,” she said. “And one thing employers want, they want good communicators.”

Now, local schools are implementing curriculum and programs that teach high school students those skills. Many local elementary schools are using the Leader in Me program, which teaches young students leadership skills that employers look for, officials said.

“We feel like that program will give our kids confidence and knowledge to realize the potential they have,” said Kathy Goff, assistant superintendent for Warren County Public Schools.

Additionally, students participate in job shadowing, attend career days and job fairs, and learn how to write a resume and interview for jobs, she said.

As the new education standards under Senate Bill 1 are implemented, county school officials are hiring four intervention teachers to work with high-schoolers who are falling behind.

Also, Warren East High School recently qualified for a statewide project that, if approved, would place a college and career-preparatory coach at the school. The coach would help students seek postsecondary opportunities, essentially acting as an extra guidance counselor, Goff said.

It’s “an on-site individual who will work with students and work with families,” she said. “It’s huge help for our guidance counselors.”

At Bowling Green High School, students can earn a certificate in one of 15 industrial areas they’re interested in pursuing. The areas of study range from construction to health sciences, and special classes are offered at the high school, Davis said.

“It’s an incentive for kids to pursue training in a field of interest while they’re in high school,” she said, “and it gives them a chance to see, ‘Is this a good career that fits for me?’ ”

Officials are also offering a new class on personal finance, and practical living curriculum helps students develop interpersonal skills that are important for employment, Davis said.

They’re lessons that some people, such as Jones, wish they had learned.

“I had the basic math, English, science,” she said.

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