The Great American Teach-In aims to showcase careers despite pallid job market

11/18/10 Kate Bradshaw
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It’s not often that you’ll find an artist, a banker, and an archaeologist talking shop under one roof. Today at schools throughout Pinellas County, the Great American Teach-In brought professionals from a broad range of fields into classrooms to teach students about life on the career path. This comes at a time when many students are personally experiencing the ravages of a gutted job market.

Any generation that came of age after World War II but before the millennium was brought up with the message that they can be whatever they put their minds to – cowboy, astronaut, president, you name it. Now you hear horror stories of PhDs driving cabs and law grads hawking books – if they’re lucky enough to find anything at all. Kelly Krupp is a counselor for eighth graders at Osceola Middle School. She says students and their families are having a tougher time getting by than she’s seen in her decade working at the school.

"I have parents calling in to ask for help for Christmas, to ask for financial assistance for Thanksgiving. I have kids who need supplies more than ever. I have kids who need clothes, and it's more than ever. I used to have to seek out kids in need, now I am called by parents asking for assistance."

Today an estimated 15,000 volunteer-presenters participated in the Great American Teach-In, an event that occurs as part of Pinellas County Schools’ American Education Week celebration. The event is in its seventeenth year, and Krupp says it aims to give students a glimpse of the wide variety of career options out there.

"The Great American Teach-In provides them an idea, gives them some choices, it gives them some knowledge about what they didn't know as far as what careers are out there so it kind of opens up their eyes."

She says some students claim to know what they want to do, and she’s even seen them follow through.

"I have to say we do do the career counseling in 8th grade and I think you'd be surprised. I would say more than 50 percent of the kids think, right now, that they know what they want to do when they grow up, you know, as we joke about saying. But they, at this time in their lives, I'd say that more than 50 percent know or have an idea of what they want to do as far as a career goes."

Krupp says that’s a rarity, but it happens. Here’s what a handful of eighth graders said when asked what they hope to do for a living in the future.

"I want to be a lawyer."

"I don't think that I should really care for that right now because I'm too young to care."

"Most likely I would like to be a mechanic who works on cars."

"I want to be in the WNBA"

"NFL football player, offensive or defensive line."

"I want to be a lawyer."

"Marine biology. I find it really fascinating, like the underwater stuff."

"I want to be a doctor. The way they be having the babies, and stuff, I want to take care of the babies. And if not I want to be a track star."

Some of those are a little more realistic than others, but Krupp says part of her job is to steer those with less realistic aspirations away from an all-or-nothing mentality.

"I treat if very seriously because they do think they want to be a football player or a doctor and so I bring it back to a little bit of reality, you know, if they're not doing so well in a class. Let's say a math class and they do want to be a doctor, then I'll say 'Well, you might want to start today with a small goal of getting your homework done and doing really well in math because that will be the beginning of meeting your goal to be a doctor'. We do a lot of reality checks, too. I do in my office, I try and let them know that perhaps they might not be a doctor, but maybe they'll be a nurse, or maybe they'll be a physician's assistant, you know, we explore some different avenues. I like to open up more than one avenue for them so they know they have a choice."

She adds that while half her students are seemingly oozing with ambition, many are also well aware of the Tampa Bay Area’s 12.4 percent unemployment rate.

"I think the kids are more impacted emotionally by the struggles that their parents are going through. We have a lot of families in need, more than I've seen in the 10 years I've been doing the counseling. And the kids take it hard, they're feeling for their parents. I think the Great American Teach-In is probably one good way of offering a little hope to the kids. They're seeing some people be successful in the midst of really great tragedy when it comes to economics, when it comes to job security at this point."

Speakers presenting at Osceola Middles School today include a banker, a couple of news reporters, a musician, and an Emergency Medical Technician. Logan, an eighth grader who wants to be a mechanic when he gets older, says he learned a little about financial markets earlier today.

"I learned that long term investing, you get more money than short term investing. If you invest the same amount of money short term you won't get as much as you get long term."

So, do you think you would ever work on Wall Street?

"Uh, no."

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