Jabez Ford may be just starting his education at Rock Hill High School but he already has his sights on a bright future.
The 15-year-old freshman wants to be a state trooper some day and, thanks to the career counseling program offered at his school, Ford has an idea of what it will take to get there.
“I joined (the program) to get more knowledge of law enforcement,” Ford said.
Kristen Starcher, who has been the career counselor at Rock Hill High School for four years, takes a unique approach to preparing students for careers and college. She recently redesigned a classroom to meet her specific career counseling needs -- known as the ROHI Den College and Career Center.
Starcher works with students every year of their high school career, ensuring they don’t have to wait until they are about to graduate to plan their futures.
“Now at least they have three years to research different careers,” she said. The approach is “a bridge from what they are learning in their classes to what they will be going into after high school.”
Catching them early has helped students make better decisions regarding their future, said Tina Janus, Rock Hill High English teacher.
“So many times, kids get out of high school and they choose wrongly,” she said. “It costs lots of money and wastes lots of time. That impacts everybody in the economy and is not a good way for kids to start out. (Kristen) stops that.”
So many times, kids get out of high school and they choose wrongly.
Tina Janus, Rock Hill High School english teacher
South Carolina schools are moving toward a career and college-ready focus, said Lisa Robbins, Catawba regional workforce adviser for the S.C. Department of Commerce. She serves York, Chester and Lancaster counties.
“Statewide, we’re moving toward this new college and career ready feel for our students,” she said. “It’s not just graduating with a diploma, but actually becoming ready for work or ready for college, whichever your decision will be.”
On March 15, Starcher celebrated the grand opening of her newly redesigned classroom space dedicated to career counseling. In the professional space, Starcher provides career exploration and information on the college process, gives career assessments, teaches students how their careers will affect their lives and shows them possible paths they could take to get where they want to go.
“I can do so much more by having this space,” she said. “It has been great for the career classes.”
Ford said he has learned what schools offer classes in forensic sciences and other subjects he will need for law enforcement, as well as the availability of applicable two-year and four-year programs. Ford also has learned what getting into school requires, such as referrals.
“It starts with your behavior,” he said. “Your behavior is a key factor in getting an education.”
Starcher also hosts career luncheons for students with community professionals, including athletes, nurses, engineers, record label producers, anthropologists and military personnel.
“The students get a realistic picture of what a career is like, not like on TV,” she said. The program showcases “a wide variety of different types of careers.”
The students get a realistic picture of what a career is like, not like on TV.
Kristen Starcher, Rock Hill High School career counselor
Starcher shows students what can be done with a high school diploma, a two-year or four-year degree or a professional degree, said Mandy Daigle, Rock Hill High School counselor.
“Not everybody is going to a four-year college because that’s not necessarily what everybody is going to do, and she does a good job at helping them at all different levels and all different goals connect what they are doing here with what their next step is,” she said.
The S.C. Department of Education has seen jobs requiring four-year college degrees are not growing as much as those requiring technical education or certification, said Ryan Brown, chief communications officer.
“What we are seeing now on the national and state level shows students need more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four-year degree for the jobs that are available now,” Brown said. With a two-year technical degree, there are “so many great careers available,” he said.
Starcher started her program with a mobile cart, visiting classrooms as a guest speaker to share insights on career development. She has been using the classroom space for a few years, but recently raised money to design it as a more professional area for students to consider life after high school.
“I wanted it to look like something different than the rest of the school so students know there was an effort put into focusing on their future,” Starcher said. “I wanted to create an environment for students that was inviting and welcoming.”
Starcher’s dedication makes her “the most important person in this building,” Janus said. Janus has had three children go through college and build careers.
“I feel she’s going to have the most impact on their success because they have to have direction and a goal,” she said. “If they have a goal, they can work backward to get to their goal.”
Northwestern and South Pointe have counseling and guidance departments, and offer College Days and other events, but Rock Hill High School’s space is unique in the district, said Mychal Frost, spokesperson for Rock Hill schools.
Starcher’s approach and the dedicated space also is unique among other South Carolina schools, Robbins said.
I know of no other school that has this kind of space dedicated to career counseling and helping our students figure out what they want to do after their high school career.
Lissa Robbins, South Carolina Department of Commerce
“I know of no other school that has this kind of space dedicated to career counseling and helping our students figure out what they want to do after their high school career,” she said. “(Kristen) has really taken it to the next level with helping the students find a career that best matches their personality and abilities.”
Rock Hill High senior Max Taylor, 17, said the program has helped open students’ eyes to the careers that exist.
“A lot of us don’t know what we want to do after high school,” he said. “It’s good to have a plan and to have a plan B, because once you’re done with high school, that’s when real life starts.”