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Middle school has students planning ahead

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a big question when you’re young, and a new Career Corner at King George Middle School is helping students start answering that question.

Seventh-grader Alec Pinneta wants to build homes for people with disabilities as an architectural engineer. His career choice was inspired by his late friend, Cody Carson, who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Pinneta has visited the Career Corner multiple times to take interest assessments. He said he has learned more about what college he should go to.

Some of the students who come to the Career Corner are just curious, says volunteer Kim Rhodes.

“And then we have some who are seventh-graders, who know what they want to do, and they want to know how to get to that point,” she said. “They want to know… what kind of job they have to do to save the money to go to school. It’s amazing how some of them know exactly what they want.”

The Career Corner occupies a small room at the back of the middle school library. Students can take interest assessments and research 16 different career clusters and their educational options.

They primarily use the Virginia Education Wizard and Virginia Career View websites.

The room also features posters and brochures with information about careers and post-secondary education options.

Volunteers supervise students who are using the Career Corner when it is open during lunch break Tuesday through Friday.

“It opens up their interests,” Rhodes said. “It gives them a chance to look at a lot of things not just what is in their family, what is in their neighborhood.”

Seventh-grader Becca Rhodes—Kim Rhodes’ daughter—wants to be an actress and singer or a teacher. She loves singing and enjoys teaching the younger Brownies with the Girl Scouts. She visits the Career Corner every Wednesday.

“I like how it has so many choices of careers you can pick from,” Becca said. “It’s quick and easy, and it gives you an idea of what you should do.”

School counselor Allison Daughtridge has wanted to establish a Career Corner for a while, she said. It all came together this year with the involvement of four volunteers and the donation of three laptops.

The Career Corner program was featured in the Virginia School Board Association’s 18th annual “Showcases for Success” directory, which highlights successful programs in public schools.

The program helps fulfill new state requirements that students have a personal Academic and Career Plan completed by the fall of their eighth-grade year. The students’ plans are reviewed before they enter ninth and 11th grades.

A lot of middle school students aspire to play pro football or perform as dancers or singers, Daughtridge said. The assessment helps connect their interests to something that may be more realistic.

“I try to be realistic with the students but not discouraging,” she said. “But I’m like, the NFL is not a major. What are your interests? How are you going to get there and go that route?”

Multiple years of college may not be an option for some, she said. But there are other avenues they can explore. A student may want to be a veterinarian, but if they don’t have that academic set there are other careers in that field, such as animal rescue, canine training or a veterinary technician, Daughtridge said.

“Maybe you’re not going to be in the NFL, but maybe physical therapy or sports medicine,” she said. “So it will help lead them in that direction or that focus.”

Engineering is a popular career field for students in King George because of the Navy base at Dahlgren, Career Corner volunteer Sammie Mays said.

Daughtridge said there are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

“Four-year college is not for everyone,” she said. “There are other options, and that’s part of what this Career Corner is for, to start thinking about options and what’s available.”

The computer program shows students what their starting and ending salary could be, Daughtridge said. She also talks with them about how much college is going to cost. She suggests earning credits at community colleges, which are considerably cheaper than four-year schools, she said.

Eighth-grader Regan Lenzi aspires to be a psychiatric nurse. Her test showed nursing and teaching as some career options for her.

“I have a lot of different choices I can make if I decide not to go into psychiatric nursing,” she said. “Teaching was one of mine, which is another good choice.”

Regan said the information she learned will help.

“I do think that the classes that I choose next year and through high school will lead to the degree I’m going to get,” she said.

Seventh-grader Emily Mays wants to be a marine biologist or a fashion designer. She likes that the Career Corner shows you what colleges are best for your interests, she said.

“[It] tells you the steps to get there,” Emily said.

Sara Backstrom is a freelancer writer. She may be reached at