Donna Cook is in her sixteenth year of teaching. She currently teaches at Union Parish High in Farmerville, Louisiana. Previously, she served as a state probation/parole officer for Louisiana. Donna holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s in criminal justice as well as a master’s of education in teaching. Cook teaches four Quest for Success classes and two Virtual Workplace Experience II classes, which encompass a total of 140 students in grades 9-12.
Quest for Success, the new career exploration course that I piloted in the spring of 2018, strategically focuses on supporting students to develop self-realization and self-worth, and understand how to express themselves. Over the courses’ eight units, students discover what specific skills and corresponding careers interest them and learn how to hone these skills and pursue their dreams.
Quest for Success helps students prepare for life after high school. Cook’s students are pictured here with their visions for their next steps.
This focus was especially important for my students, who are rarely encouraged to strive for success and sometimes hold themselves in low self-esteem. Quest for Success helped my students see themselves in a new light—they better understood their unique personalities and what they are capable of. When I think about the impact the pilot course had on my students, a student named Trevor (his name has been changed) always comes to mind.
On the first day of class, Trevor walked into my classroom wearing a jacket with the hood pulled over his eyes. I greeted him and asked him to remove his hood. Perhaps that got us started on the wrong foot because he immediately shut down. Refusing to even sign the attendance sheet, he walked over to a desk and put his head down. I started class; Trevor didn’t participate.
One of the early lessons in Quest for Success teaches students about the engineering design process and supports them to develop collaboration, a key employability competency. They begin the project-based learning task by breaking up into small groups and using the five stages of the engineering design process to build a tower. They record their thinking during each phase of the design process as they work and compete to see who can build the tallest tower.
I assigned the teams and told them they would be using balloons to build their towers—making it a little more challenging and fun! The students loved the hands-on learning as well as the excitement of competing and dug right in. Well, everyone except Trevor. I told his team to go ahead and start without him.
Cook’s students work in teams to build balloon towers using the engineering design process.
“Remember,” I told my class as they grappled with the engineering design process, “it’s important to start with a good foundation, then build from there.” Still, teams’ balloon towers wilted over. I stood back and watched students confer with one another, referencing their journals as they evaluated their work and strategized their next steps.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Trevor stand up. I thought for a moment he might walk out of the classroom, but instead, he walked over to his group. Taking the design journal and the masking tape, he said, “Here, this is how we can build a stable foundation.” His team’s tower grew taller and taller—and they won the competition.
Trevor participated in the Quest for Success lessons a little more each day. He joined the group discussions. The jacket came off.
In my classroom, I included the option of remote work with mentors as part of Quest for Success. Towards the end of the course, Trevor went to the computer located outside of my classroom for his final conversation with his mentor, done via a video chat. Trevor came back in the classroom beaming. His mentor had given him high marks, especially on communication skills. “I can really do what I set my mind to, can’t I?”
Trevor told his mentor that following his experience in Quest for Success, he had come to realize that not only was he interested in many things—including owning his own business and going to a four-year college to pursue engineering—but he could also succeed in whatever field he chose to pursue. Trevor is a senior this year and on track to graduation.
I always have high expectations for my students. As a teacher, I do whatever I can to support them to excel—not only in high school but also in their careers and life. But one thing that’s an ongoing struggle is helping students understand their own self-worth, identify what they are interested in, and believe they can succeed in the pursuit of their dreams.
Quest for Success helps bridge this gap. Through the course’s hands-on exploration and self-discovery components, linking learning to real-world applications, and supporting students to explore their interests, students are able to develop a deeper sense of self-realization and self-worth through the course.
The difference between where my students started at the beginning of Quest for Success and where they ended up was phenomenal. Activities from watching videos of professionals, participating in projects that have real-world implications, using online tools, to connecting with mentors kept students engaged with the content and working every day to better develop their self-expression and interests. Being able to more clearly envision their future selves kept them motivated—they now had something to strive for.
I truly believe that career exploration courses like Quest for Success will lead our students to succeed in whatever path they choose to pursue. Trevor is still on his quest, but now he has the confidence and the skills to achieve anything he wants to become. For students like Trevor, Quest for Success is a life-changing experience.