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Clusters guide career paths

August 05, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg teen Eric Perry is pretty sure he wants to be a doctor or a pharmacist when he grows up.

They seem like they would be fun professions, said Perry, 14, who said he's interested in science and likes the $70,000-a-year starting salary he's heard about.

Schoolmate Laura Smith isn't quite as specific in her career goals at this point.

"I don't know exactly, but I want to do something in fashion," said Smith, 14, of Martinsburg, who got a taste of one possible job - modeling - at the Martinsburg Mall.

Both incoming freshman at Martinsburg High School, Perry and Smith were asked as eighth-graders at North Middle School to contemplate their futures and choose a "career cluster" that will guide their coursework throughout high school.

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"Our goal is when children leave our school system, they're going to be prepared for life," said Donna Miller, assistant superintendent for instruction for Berkeley County Schools.

This year's freshman class will be the first to go through high school with the clustering system, which requires students to pick one of six broad career areas for the first two years of high school, then narrow their choice to a more specific "major" in their junior year, Miller said.

The career clusters include health, human services, engineering/technical, science/natural resources, business/marketing and fine arts/humanities.

Based on the cluster, major and occupational level, students get a list of recommended coursework designed to prepare them for required post-secondary education or the job itself, Miller said.

"We're trying to give them some direction. We have so many children who finish high school and have no idea what they want to do," she said.

The county is a year ahead of the state's deadline to implement a career preparation program starting at the eighth-grade level as part of comprehensive schools-to-work legislation enacted several years ago, she said.

For Smith and Perry, the decision involved a lot of parental input.

Cindy Smith said she has mixed feelings about clustering, which she worries could handicap a student who dramatically changes his or her mind midway through high school.

"There are so many opportunities to explore as children to say 'This is what I want to do,'" said Smith, 34, a medical billing clerk.

As a teacher, Mary Perry said she likes the direction the program gives parents in choosing classes for their children. And she thinks the specialty coursework will give her son an edge in applying for college.

Still, she said, she worries what will happen if her son changes his mind, given the very strict progression of classes he's required to take under the health cluster's professional level.

"Once he's into it, it's kind of hard to change gears," Perry said.

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