It is never too early for students to start preparing for the future, according to Suzie Price.

Price is Truman Elementary's school counselor and was a presenter Monday at the Oklahoma State Department of Education's "Student Success Summit." Approximately 700 educators, counselors and administrators attended the event held in Norman.

Price led two sessions on "Career Exploration in Elementary Grades" that focused on helping educators find different ways to explore career paths with students in kindergarten through second grade.

"It really is career exploration, because they aren't actually choosing a career path," Price said. "They just need our help as educators to look at what is out there and what paths they might be interested in."

While counselors are expected to focus on career exploration, Price said she was surprised at the minimal feedback she received from teachers after asking them about ways they engage children in career exploration.

"We are preparing tomorrow's workforce, so career exploration is something we all need to be aware of," Price said. "And that's why I think we're having this conference today. The State Department of Education is really trying to be on top of this."

For kindergarten students, Price said she has found success relating the time children spend at school to working a job. She said this establishes a thought process for children to understand that school and jobs have responsibilities.

"I tell them that their job right now is to be in kindergarten and to come to school every day on time and be good listeners," Price said. "I just emphasize to them that in some ways, this is their job right now."

For first and second graders, Price recommends reading books such as the Berenstain Bears to introduce ideas about work and careers after school. She also recommends activities like puzzles centered around careers such as being a police officer, firefighter or a nurse that require teamwork and help introduce different career options.

"Exposure to different paths and career options can open up a child's eyes to wanting to do something different," Price said. "You'll never know if you can do something unless you're exposed to it."

The conference also centered on a new program called Individual Career Academic Planning, which was instituted statewide. Students participate in ICAP starting in middle school, and the program helps students identify career paths that interest them.

Travis Lightsey Jr., director for major & career exploration at the University of Oklahoma, said career preparation should start as early as possible.

"It's easy for students to think of graduating high school, college or even picking a major as the final step in the process," Lightsey said. "But as educators, we need to start getting students to consider those as checkpoints on the way to something bigger, like finding the right career after school. It's never too early to start helping students consider their options."

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