Postsecondary Pathways

Show Transcript

Welcome to Beyond the Bell podcast where you'll get an inside look into school life. We cover school related topics that support your child's education and well- being. As you listen along, we hope you'll gain insights for navigating school with your child and leave with a deeper sense of connection between school and home. Here's your host Chantelle Quesnelle.

On this episode of Beyond the Bell, we welcome Wade Tower, Secondary Curriculum Consultant at Simcoe Muskoka Catholic. Wade will be taking us Beyond the Bell and into the supports and the considerations around postsecondary pathways, or more simply the options after high school.  Wade has been with our school board for over 25 years. He is passionate about this topic and is also in the midst of helping his own children through this significant transition. Welcome, Wade.

Wade: Thanks so much, Chantelle. 

Chantelle: So postsecondary pathways sounds very official. Can you take a moment to talk our listeners through what this exactly means? 

Wade: Yeah, yeah. You know what? It does sound really official and it's probably part of the reason with all the stress uh that's that results because of it um, and January, February is a really important time because it is course selection time. It's the time when students are um, finalizing their university and college applications. So there's, it's a great deal of stress, so it's it's timely that that we're talking. Um, the the idea of a postsecondary pathway talks about, it's not a destination, it's not something that ends after high school. Because if we, if we talk about it, like it's a destination, uh it's it's way more scary than it is if, if we're just talking about it a step along the way. For students, there's lots of different transitions that they take. You know, we go from kindergarten to grade one, and grade eight to grade nine. This is just another step along the way. And, and I think when we, when we, we think about it that way, um it makes it a little bit more easy to swallow. Um and and um yeah, because it can be kind of paralyzing if you think that the decision you're about to make has, you know, life altering consequences, you could be paralyzed by that. 

Chantelle: Sure. I really appreciate that. That framing reminding us of the many transitions that kids go through, that we go through as parents and caregivers supporting them in those transitions. And I know, you know, we think about that um, you know, it's a, “it's about the journey, not about the destination”, but in this case that is a really important thing to think about it sounds like.

Wade: Absolutely. As adults, we are faced with uh decisions every day. Some decisions are bigger than than others. If you've gone through buying a home for example, uh it can be very, very nerve wracking and how much can you afford. And what kind of house, where do you want to live? All of those things? And this decision that's that young people have, you know, they might have the fear that they're not satisfied with finding the right kind of work, worried about making the wrong choice and how it's going to affect them. Uh, you know, just, just afraid of disappointing their parents. I think we, we often think that the kids aren't… our children aren't really trying to make us happy, but the research shows that the parents play an incredibly important role in um, in a student’s, in a young person's decision making, they want to make us happy. That may be not something we understand or think it's true, but but it's… the research bears that it that it is absolutely true. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And so really taking a second then to recognize the pressure and the stress that comes with that all while keeping in mind. Yes, they're going into adulthood, but they're still young when they're making these decisions and it's not that typical that the decision that's made right away is the end point in the journey. You're still on the journey. 

Wade: Absolutely. That that is so critically important, that that it's it's just it's a step along the way and and that there's there's always a way to make different u-turns and diversions off those pathways - you're not stuck in it. In fact, even in postsecondary, we know that when students, their initial choice is never -  is very rarely the one they stick with throughout their postsecondary career. Uh it is, and it's part of the journey when they find out more about themselves and who they are. 

Chantelle: So there there's some old thinking around these pathways: college, university, but in reality there really is so much more than that. So Wade, how should we be thinking about this? 

Wade: Yeah, you're right. I think that there's this idea that in order to be successful, there was, you know, college or university pathway was, was the only way to do it, and and and of those two university was, was the higher of the two choices.

Um, what we're seeing now is, is that this decision making doesn't have to necessarily be linear. We're seeing, we're seeing, you know, we think we go to high school, you go to university, then you go to work and … and you find success. We're seeing all kinds of different ways for students to find success. We're finding um, students going to college then to university and then off to a different pathway or the other way around is popular too where students uh maybe try a university pathway and then uh go into a college program to help augment their skill set. Um and then we have students who go to work right after high school and earn some money because we know that postsecondary can be extremely costly, so they're earning money and they're going part-time along the way, or they're saving up a chunk, a chunk of funds to help pay for that. Um, apprenticeship is an incredible, incredibly valuable opportunity. That was my job before my current job, I was the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program Coordinator and I had the opportunity to work with these students who um, I helped get into uh get a skilled trade as auto service technician, carpenter, electrician plumber. And I had many examples of young people at 21 who were licensed in their, in their trade and had purchased their first home, um, which made me feel very envious because I certainly was not in that position at 21. 

Chantelle: I think that that is so important to kind of paint those pictures and to see all those possibilities because maybe at one point in this journey, it really seemed like a fork. You could go one way or the other. And what I'm hearing from you now is how, how important it is to, to think about all of the possibilities, but maybe Wade, all of those possibilities in and of itself now feels overwhelming.

Wade: It can. And I mean, one of the things I love about working for our school board is our board's mission. So our board's mission talks about “faithfully, inclusively and equitably. We inspire every student to realize their God-given potential.” That idea that we are all given you have this gift from God. This, this, this idea that we are, we are, we are unique and we have this responsibility to find out what that gift is and what a plan is, what what we're called to do, that kind of the vocation. Um, and and I think we do a pretty good job of that, that idea of finding out no matter what you want to do, there's value in work. And I get nervous about ever putting a value on what a student, what a young person wants to do or what they're currently doing. And um, I think that that idea that all work has dignity, uh, and we all have that responsibility that that to find out what that God-given gift is and what our vocation might be. And I think Pope John Paul said it and I can't, I won't, I won't pretend to know what exactly, but he he talked about that there's there's no one among us who does not have a divine vocation. So we - part of our calling as being good christians is finding out what that is and and and and doing that to our very best ability. 

Chantelle: I'm thinking about, you know, you as a parent, my kids are not quite at this stage just yet, but um, how much effort that takes in practice as adults we’re aware of the challenges and - whether those be financial or social um, of, of many that that our kids might face as they go through this transition. Uh, there's time in their life in terms of making these decisions and how we hold all of that. While also giving the space for exploration, for them to kind of guide their own journey versus us giving them the map that we want them to follow. 

Wade: Absolutely - thanks for pointing out to everyone that I'm a lot older than you, Chantelle.

Chantelle: Sorry. Just by a little, just by a little!

Wade: Just by a … yeah yeah, whatever. Um, you know, you're right. We as parents, we have this, we've we had struggles in our lives, um, uh struggles in in in being young, we were teenagers, we we've we've made decisions. Maybe not all of them great. We've had, you know, postsecondary experiences and and we want every, it's just human nature to want better for your for your children and we don't want them to make the mistakes that we we've made. So so there there is a tendency, I think for parents to want to make those decisions for their, for their, for their children, so that they don't have that struggle. But in fact, the struggle is really a part of what who makes us who we are and if if we, if we talk about it like this learning pit, um, and we often want to build a bridge so that students don't have to struggle or don't have to, don't have to - our kids don't have to feel all the trouble, all the tribulations that we had getting out of the pit, but it's that it's that it's that journey, like you talked about earlier, that's so critically important and it's it's, it's like career pathway planning is like a muscle. And if we don't have an opportunity to practice that muscle uh then then it doesn't get developed and then it becomes difficult or more difficult later in life um, making those decisions because we were depending on other people doing it. So it's good intentions and and so we need to figure ways as parents to be part of the conversation uh and supporting our our children, not not not being the influencer of telling them what they think they should be doing. 

Chantelle: Sure. So I think these are really important points and I, I'm wondering what that what does that sound like, what does that difference look like from leading that decision making versus um, I don't know, whether it's like facilitating it or supporting it? What does that sound like at the dinner table, Wade?

Wade: It starts young, it starts about how we talk about our own work experience uh and how we value work. Um, how we, what we think about other jobs and we are very cautious not to um, not to, you know have students think that certain jobs are better than other jobs and other occupations. Um, because I think that that can kind of cloud a, cloud a young person's image of what work really is. Um, and and and also have a conversation about not just about the work, like there's, there's a real difference between a career versus an occupation and and the idea that, the idea that um an occupation is something you do.  So for example, I'm a teacher, it's it's it's my occupation, it's what I do. My career is so much more than that. It's it's it's all of my life experiences. It's what I do in my part time. It's what I do, it's what I do on my holidays. It's it's it's where I put my, it's where my interest. It's time I spend with my family, all of those things. Um and our occupation is a part of our life, but it's not really, it's not, in my opinion, not our career, it's just a part of our daily life. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And I guess I'm also seeing those too occupation versus career. There's a, with, with the reflecting on the concept of a career, I think about past, but also about the future. Like, part of your career is where you might be aspiring to, or the options that might be kind of like, lying ahead of you or things that might still be unfolding as their experimented with or tried on for size versus like, what's happening in this moment, which might be an occupation. 

Wade: Absolutely. And and you're right, and the career is part of the journey, like, and when I was talking, when I'm talking to young people, I'm saying they are actually in their career right now, they're making decisions that have impacts on, on that. So we have course selection is happening right now for all of our students in grade 8 to 11, and and they're making decisions that will help them find out about who they are, what their interests are, what maybe what they're what they're not interested in. Um, and and they all make decisions about part time work, those skills that they're developing early on, um you know, is part of their career. So you're right, it's it's it's so much more than just, um just just a job or just an occupation.

Chantelle: Sure. As you as you were talking about that Wade, I remember one of the most significant summer jobs that I had in my life, uh was being a summer camp counselor. And when I look back on that job, I can make the links to my current job as a school psychologist, as a mental health lead. And so many of the transferable skills that I learned as a camp counselor that still apply in my role right now and how thankful I am for that experience, but I would never have thought of that when I was in that role. But how neat it is sometimes to reflect back and to see how we've gotten to where we are.

Wade: Absolutely, I can draw a direct path from me washing pots in the kitchen in Sackville, New Brunswick to me standing here today, you know what I mean? Like it's they're, they're there absolutely those soft skills, and and and soft skills and transferable skills, uh they are so critically important in that, in that career development for sure. 

Chantelle: You spoke a little bit about some of the tools or the resources that we have in our schools to support this decision- making process. But because, you know, Beyond the Bell, for our podcast, we're trying to do that inside peek.

I wonder if you could share a little bit more for our parents and caregivers who are listening. What are those resources that are available to students where my parents find them or support their students in accessing them? 

Wade: Um, first and foremost, our our guidance departments in our schools are incredibly valuable and rich um, uh in information around career development and planning uh and they can be a great source and and and and a great starting point for conversations. However, there's lots of teachers with lots of different experiences in high schools. We have teachers who have teaching as a second career and they have a whole uh you know, almost a whole lifetime of experience working in a different sector. Uh some of our shop teachers, auto service technicians, carpenters, chefs, um so reaching out and talking to other teachers in the school is really important as well.  There's some, there's a tool that we use for career planning and and it's called Xello, uh and it is an amazing tool that has uh interest inventory, skill uh, skill uh inventories and it links where your interest in your skills might match up for certain, certain occupations. Um and it and it's and it's uh it's an incredibly rich tool and we have students logging into that at all different times. I can - I even went on during, on Christmas Day, there was like 30 or 40 students going in logging into that. I was thinking, I can't believe there wasn't better things to do on christmas day, but, but they, but it just shows how interested they are in that. So um for for parents, I mean I recommend saying, "Hey, if you want to pull it up and can we look at, you know what it says and what have you done in that?" And, and I think it's a great way to have that, have a conversation around um career planning and pathway planning. And again, doing it early is important, like it's a muscle, we have to, we have to start in grade eight and, and uh and and and as we, as we get closer to grade 12 that the, the choices become more difficult, but if we haven't practiced that along the way, then um it becomes overwhelming a little bit. 

Chantelle: Yeah, and I'm thinking, you know, there's so many ways that we can practice that process of decision making. Um, you know, and one of the things on, you know, the mental health side of things, I talk about like values-based decision making. And so sometimes I um, with students I work with, I might think of like what are some of those top values that are really important to students. And so for example, if I if I really value creativity and I had some pathways open to me, I might say, okay, if I was making a decision with creativity at the forefront, what would my decision be? Or maybe it's adventure, or um, maybe it's achievement, like there's all these different values, no, no one is right or wrong, but if I were to use those to guide the decision making, um what would those decisions look like? And then you're sort of trying on, like, what one feels better recognizing as they go through the journey, those values might change. And how tricky it is when those values are different than families' and how that sometimes makes, makes the conversation, makes the support look and feel a little different, both for parents and caregivers as well as students.

Wade: My son leading up to his graduating year, he um, he said to me, "Uh dad, I think I'm gonna take the summer off and and work on my music," and even with all I know, you know, I should have been that supporting parent saying, you know, this voice in my head was saying, you know, I don't know what my face looked like, but my voice in my head was saying, "Are you crazy? You need to work for money to help pay for for postsecondary!" And, you know, you're right, and I mean, uh it's it can be difficult when those values, those values do clash a little bit, right? And those values also develop as well. They're not set in stone like what you value at at 17 or 18 may be different than what you're going to value at 23 or 24. But I love the fact that you're talking about values. And I think it's it's, we often talk about interest and we talk about abilities, but I think values is probably one of the, one of the, one of the more overlooked parts of the decision making process as well, right? So and and and the reason it's important is it talks about, we often talk about what, what do you want to be when really it should be, who do you want to be? And I think that that's really…

Chantelle: Whoa…say that one again, Wade. Say that one again. 

Wade: It's it's not about what you want to be, it's about who you want to be. And I think that's where the values play a really important role um, in that. And, and um, and I think that's again, I think as in our school board we have that opportunity to talk about who we want to be, where our values are and it's so critically important for students and parents to reflect on that. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And it's something that we have to be really intentional about doing because we don't often kind of go there maybe unless we've practiced or like you said “worked that muscle” into conducting our decision making that way?

And as a, as a parent, one thing that you know, I can do or we can do is to get curious like, “Okay, tell me more about that, that decision and how that fits with, you know, who you want to be.” 

Wade: I guess the challenge too is is the - our our children need to take ownership of this, of this as well ,and if they feel that someone is doing it for them, then that ownership, they don't have it. So then when things go wrong, it's quite easy to blame mom and dad. And this happened, again, this happened to me, (he's gonna kill me if I'm talking about him too much), but happened to me with my, with my with my youngest son as well. He chose a college program that he thought he believed we wanted him to to take and perhaps I'm guilty and saying, yeah, we probably did. He attended it for a semester and we knew right away it wasn't gonna work out. So he's changed, he's in a new program now and it's, it was something that he chose and he's invested in making sure that he's successful and I think that's, that's a really important, it's important for them to take ownership of it as well.

Chantelle: So I just want to loop back around some of those resources and see if there is any, anything else that we missed. So we talked about some of the tools like Xello. Is that something that parents can access or is that really students access that through their platform? 

Wade: There there is a, there is a parent, there is a parent portal but but but it's best if if you can instead, instead of uh sneaking into it and doing it, asking your, ask your your your child to take you in and and take take you for a little bit of a tour. But the other thing I didn't talk about is all the different programs like Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) programs in our high school that allows students to investigate a particular sector. Because that's the other thing we often, when when we're looking at making choices, we’re thinking about specific occupations and really I think I would, I would recommend that we broaden that to look more about you know a sector. So if it's a if it's uh the construction sector, or or the the hospitality and tourism industry, there's so many different opportunities. And if you ask, you ask most we'll ask you did you know that you were going to be doing the job you're currently did you know you're speaking to Wade Tower on a podcast!?

Chantelle: No!

Wade: You know, when you were in high school?

Chantelle: No - that's the thing, you know I I didn't. Um, I yeah I've never taken a psychology course before starting my undergrad in Psychology. But through that process I got to explore it a bit further and get some um, work experience in different areas that led me to think, “Huh - do I want to go back to school? And what do I want to go back to school for?” And so the older I got, the more mature I got, the more um, aware I was of those values and practiced living those values, the more confident I got in my decision making I suppose. 

Wade: Absolutely, and you know I use an example um, I'm I'm not very tall, I'm 5’5”. And I tell students when I'm talking in front of them, I say, “So what if my, what if my goal was to be an NBA, you know an NBA all-star?” And they all laugh because I'm not very tall. Um, and and then I say, “Well what, you know what if I -”  and there was somebody my size by the way in the NBA, um, um, and he did very very well, but not very many people make it to the NBA who's 5’5”. But when you look at, when you look at that industry, there's so many different occupations that revolve around the players that are that are playing there! There’s sports journalism, there's coaching, there's athletic trainers, there's there's all kinds of different opportunities. So we need to open up the idea and I think specialist high skills majors in our high school help help do that. 

Chantelle: Yeah okay so I, I'm just thinking about a sector versus an occupation and that helps expand out the thinking and explore a little bit about the jobs involved in that sector that your child might be interested in exploring. 

Wade: Absolutely. And and and we, uh you know, 30 years of work or or 35 years of work can be a long time. And there's gonna be opportunities that are gonna come up in sectors that we don't even know about. We - Chat, uh ChatGPT - we're talking a lot about that in education right now. That artificial intelligence, I mean, five years ago, people weren't talking about that. There's a whole, there's a whole industry developing about that. Right? So, so it's, it's really important that, that we're not laser-focused on a particular - and I think that's sometimes hard for teachers because some of us have, have we started, we started school at four grade, at four years old. And we stayed in school ever since. Right? Like, but that is not the reality of a lot of people. There's so many different changes that they make. Right? So… 

Chantelle: Sure that's a great kind of point to, to think about. I'm wondering if I could take us back to unpack a little bit about the Specialist High Skills Major. Can you talk a bit about what that's about? That sounds really cool. 

Wade: Yeah. So, so, so Specialist High Skills Major programs, all our high schools have different programs that they run. Um, but it allows students to earn industry recognized certifications; First Aid, WHMIS, then it depends on, it could be Fall Arrest if it's in the construction sector. Uh, they're industry specific. Uh, and then they have major credits which are specifically tied to that sector. And uh, and then, um, they also have a Coop and COop is something where students can actually go out and work in that sector and earn secondary credits at the same time. So it's a great opportunity and you can do coop without doing a specialist high skills major as well. I recommend that. I mean, um, it's so important to kind of get a taste for the world of work, uh, when you're making the decision. Um, and if I can share a story?

Chantelle: Yeah, please!

Wade: So I had this young, uh, young lady, Terry. She wanted to be an elementary school teacher. She, she really wanted to be an elementary school teacher. So we placed her in an elementary school for a full day and she was phenomenal. The kids loved her. The teachers were fighting over who was going to get Terry on any particular day. She got letters from parents thanking her for the work she was doing. At the end of the, at the end of the semester. I said, “Terry, this is awesome! The kids loved you, parents loved you, teachers... everyone loves you!” She says, “Sir, I hate kids.” So she realized, so I mean it's, it's finding out something you might not like to do as well. Right? So that really helped. 

Chantelle: Which is just as important! Ruling out…

Wade: Absolutely. It's so important to find out who you are and you know, like that's why Coop and and Specialist High Skills Majors. And and we even have a program called Dual Credit. Um, so you get a chance to actually earn a high earn a college credit, experience college life and earn a high school credit at the same time. So there's so many awesome, awesome tools in secondary school to explore. Um, postsecondary - like what, what life is gonna look like for you after high school. 

Chantelle: Yeah. And anywhere that you would direct, kind of students to,  our parents could kind of let students know about if they're interested in Coop or Specialist High Skills Major, or Dual Credit. Is it all through guidance, Wade?

Wade: Yeah, guidance. Again, our tech departments or coop teachers. Um, there's - any conversation can start with any teacher. It's not that we're not, we're not, you know, the teacher might say, well, hey, go talk to this teacher, go talk to your guidance department. But yeah, anyone they feel comfortable with - any caring and there's so many caring adults in high school. So we, I mean feeling that they can reach out to anyone in high school to help start that conversation. 

Chantelle: That's great. Well, holy we covered so many things today, Wade. I'm gonna do my best to kind of do the Cole's Notes run down and then we'll see if there's anything else to add on.

Wade: Well and you know what, there's again, it's so it's so exciting, the opportunities, right? Like so, and and um, there's so much to talk about and share.

Chantelle: There is! And 20 minutes doesn't give us a big inside scoop, but uh…

Wade: No!

Chantelle: …I think we were able to cover quite a bit in this conversation um, with quite a few taglines so hopefully parents can find these helpful and maybe write them down. So we talked about it being the journey, not the destination. And and to remember all the different transitions that kids have gone through, and that the postsecondary transition is just another one to add to the journey. Um, and that parent-pressures, family-pressures can be somewhat paralyzing and stressful and how important it is that we recognize that, um and figure out how to help facilitate the thinking and the decision making versus leading, leading the way. And that there are many tools available to help uh students in this process, whether it is the conversations with the caring adults in their building or in the community to just get curious themselves of what it looks like, tools available like questionnaires and inventories on Xello. Um, as well as programs like Specialist High Skills Major and Co op, which lets us, you know, try things on and see how they fit. Um, the reminder that we want to look at a sector and not an occupation to really expand our thinking. Um, and that we can use our values to help guide our decision making. Anything I missed in that summary, Wade?

Wade: I can't believe, I can't believe we said all that!

Chantelle: OK, great! Anything else that you wanted to chat about that we didn't have a chance to yet?

Wade: Well not only that, it's it's I can't stress, I can't stress enough. The, the role that parents play in supporting their children in the, in this and having conversations frequently and early is not a bad thing. So in January and, in January and February, what happens sometimes is students will show up to the guidance department and they haven't thought about it until well they know the deadline. So now they've got to make a decision. That's not the first time they should be thinking about this and talking about it and and conversations conversations early and often and for and and and open is really, really important. 

Chantelle: Perfect. What a great point to end on. So parents, we hope that this episode has helped give you an inside look and an expanded look at postsecondary pathways, including some ideas on how to start the conversation at home at the dinner table, and resources available to students within Simcoe Muskoka Catholic. A big thank you to Wade for being here with us today on this episode of Beyond the Bell. 

Thanks for listening to Beyond the Bell podcast. We hope you found today's episode helpful. Beyond the Bell is brought to you by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and our Catholic Parent Involvement Committee.

It's hosted by Chantelle Quesnelle. Pauline Stevenson is our executive producer. Episodes are produced and edited by Portage Creative. You can find our show notes in previous episodes on our podcast website If you like today's episode, leave us a review. If you have any suggestions for future episodes or any questions or comments about Beyond the Bell podcast, you can send an email to 

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