Students at Evanston Township High School (ETHS) have begun crafting detailed career plans that experts believe will reduce the “uncertainty” about their futures that can lead to post high school “aimlessness.”

The new initiative or “iCAPs” (Individualized Career and Academic Plans) is said to build on the success found with IEPs or “Individual Education Plans” that are created to support special needs students. The iCAPs program brings each student, their parents/guardians, counselor and teachers together to create and follow a plan that matches student interests and abilities to their post high school career ambitions.

 “The process is about exploration,” said Beth Arey, ETHS College and Career Coordinator to the District 202 Board during a presentation about the ICAPs on Dec.15. Sometimes students make career decisions “on what might be popular and not necessarily on who they are. This process gives them the possibility to explore and come up with a plan to be successful,” she said.

This initiative is “operationalizing in a comprehensive way” the District’s goals of helping students achieve academic success and career preparation, and student personalization, said Dr. Eric Witherspoon, ETHS Superintendent.

Three Phases: Exploring, Planning, Transitioning

The ICAPs model assigns students ongoing tasks that guide them through three phases.  First, students go through the “exploring” phase, in which they engage in activities to identify their personality traits, career interests, skills and work values and learning styles. Next, in the “planning” phase, connections are made between what was learned in the exploring phase and career options and ETHS course offerings, and ultimately a post-secondary pathway is identified.

A newly developed ETHS Career Pathways Programs of Study, which the school said will be made available online soon, helps match fields of interest with courses offered at both ETHS and Oakton Community College, and identify potential job certificates and college degrees that students can earn. Finally, students go into “transitioning,” where they develop the skills and habits needed to “navigate career and academic transitions and pursue growth opportunities throughout life,” Ms. Arey said. 

An ICAP portfolio is created over the course of the process. It includes a four-year course plan, long-term and short-term goals; results from career and interest inventories; a resume; a schedule of assigned, upcoming and completed tasks; education and career plans; standardized test scores and GPA; reflective writing; journal notes or documents regarding meetings and learning experiences both in and out of school; scholarships; and service hours.

All parts of the process are recorded and maintained in Naviance, an online college/career planning resource available to students, parents/guardians and ETHS staff.  The program also keeps track of how often students access the tool as well as attendance at parent conferences.

In mid-December, Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell sent a letter to parents and guardians, detailing the iCAPs program and including instructions on how families are to register for Family Connection by Naviance in order to follow their student’s progress.

Studies Back the Need

According to research completed by Duke University Professor Dr. Angel Harris and his colleagues, uncertainty about a student’s post-high-school plans can lead to “aimlessness” involving prolonged education without earning a degree, residential dependence and frequent job changes, all of which can lead to lower wages in adulthood.

By comparison, students engaged in iCAP program are said to benefit from increased relationships with educational personnel, better communication skills, increased goal-setting and planning skills, and a better understanding of their own abilities.  They also are said to benefit from increased engagement and self efficacy in their academic work, increased engagement in more challenging coursework, increased understanding of their post-secondary and career options and increased interest and readiness to engage in post-secondary decision making.

Board Reaction

Several Board members commended the plan yet concerns were raised about having the resources to support such an ambitious program.  Jonathan Baum questioned how the program could be sustained without increasing the number of counselors.  “We need to make sure you have the resources to do this.” he said.

Shelley Gates, Career and Technical Education Department chair, told the Board the iCAP process is essentially adding a more “comprehensive approach” to what ETHS already does for career planning. “A lot of what counselors already do” will be documented and shared in different ways. “We are looking at ways to maximize the time already in the schedule,” said Ms. Gates. “We are not at a point where we think we can’t do it with existing resources,” she said.

Both Ms. Gates and Ms. Arey acknowledged that the new initiative would require a shift in thinking by some but that the benefits seemed to outweigh the risks. This is a “more holistic approach to supporting our students,” said Ms. Arey.  It’s “very empowering” for the students, said Ms. Gates. “They see they “have some choices.”