More money for career programs in Northwest suburban high schools

When Sarah Aljanabi went to her counselor at Buffalo Grove High School during her sophomore year to talk about career options, she thought pharmacy sounded interesting. But she didn't really know what it entailed.

"I knew I wanted to be in health care, but I wasn't sure which career would be best for me," Aljanabi said.

To help her decide, Aljanabi did a six-week internship at a Walgreens pharmacy the summer before her junior year. She got to see what pharmacists do daily, learned how to fill prescriptions and asked a lot of questions about working in the field.

"It's not like just reading an article online about what a pharmacist does and how much they get paid and then deciding to do that career," she said.

Since then, Aljanabi has decided to pursue pharmacy and has continued working as a pharmacy technician.

And, because she has been able to tailor her remaining high school courses to her future career, she expects to get through a college pharmacy program in six years instead of the usual eight.

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 and Palatine Schaumburg High School District 211 are already heavily involved in career and college pathway programs, where students like Aljanabi can begin working toward a career while still in high school.

Now, a $400,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation will let both districts expand their opportunities for students to explore careers that interest them, in and out of the classroom.

The money is part of the Foundation's new Great Lakes College and Career Pathways Partnership, which overall is investing $3 million. Schools in Rockford, Madison and Columbus, Ohio are among those also getting grants.

"College and career pathways transform high school by making the experience far more relevant for students," said Beth Swanson, the foundation's vice president for strategy and programs, in a news release. "And they turn out more knowledgeable and skilled workers to fuel regional economies."

District 214 already has an extensive program where students who select a future career track can take specially tailored classes, be matched for internships and earn college credit or professional certificates toward that career while still in high school.

Assistant Superintendent Lazaro Lopez said the Joyce grant reinforces that work and will help them establish new opportunities for students in the areas of health sciences and information technology.

"This validates what we have been doing to rethink high school for our students and make sure high school is relevant to the rest of their lives," Lopez said.

"College and career pathways ensure students are thinking long-term about all their options and have the opportunity to investigate those while in high school."

He said District 214, District 211 and Harper College will work together to bring those opportunities to all Northwest suburban students.

District 211 will use its share of the grant to enhance internships and increase the number of dual-credit options, said Lisa Small, associate superintendent for instruction.

Aljanabi, who will graduate from Buffalo Grove High School in June, said she feels confident, and ahead of many of her peers.

"I don't have to do a four-year undergraduate program not knowing what major I want," she said. "I already know what I want to do, which helps me a lot."

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