WARREN, NJ - Research demonstrates that providing students with career education at an early age is beneficial for several reasons. It opens doors for students by presenting an array of options, motivating them to research and pursue new interests.  It allows children to set individual goals for new learning.  Additionally, it relates school studies to real world experiences.  As part of an enrichment opportunity, Warren Township educators PJ Jones, Susan Kline, Wendy Piller, and Jill Zimmer planned a 21st century learning career experience. The Career Expos were open to fourth and fifth grade students throughout the entire district on Thursday, November 20.
 
Prior to the 2014 Career Expo, the teachers assembled a well–represented assortment of careers. To prepare for the evening, students were allowed ownership over their selection choices as they ranked their preferences from the diverse list of workshops offered. As each individual session began, the guest speakers provided significant background knowledge about their chosen careers as well as the education and training involved; they detailed how subjects taught in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms do have relevance in their day-to-day work lives. Presenters engaged the student audience with high level questions to evoke analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Following that, students were tasked with a career related problem to solve and the children were eager to dive in.
 
 
Across the district, over 40 volunteers planned for, and presented at, the evening Expo events.  From graphic design to law, journalism to polymer engineering, actuarial to medical careers, and computer programming to entrepreneurs, it was an eye-opening experience.
 
At Central School, students were able to design an avatar by manipulating computer code, evaluate risk factors related to medical insurance candidates, deliberate as jurors during a trial, arrange solar panel arrays on a model building, mix polymers to create a toy, and much more. At Mt. Horeb School, a Marketing Director challenged students to invent an original superhero to appeal to a certain demographic. An American Sign Language interpreter encouraged students to welcome a new hearing impaired student to the school.  What are the ramifications of an oil spill? A geologist asked students to ponder how they would assess and solve this multifaceted problem. “By offering Career Expos yearly, we can begin to introduce career education,” said Piller. “We want the information which is taught on a daily basis to be information that doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Career education helps students connect everyday learning and apply it to the relevancy of the real world.”

 
Comments overheard by students reinforced how positive and rewarding the students’ experiences had been. For example, after attending the detective's workshop, Isabella Paganini said, "Can I please bring home my name tag that I'm wearing tonight?  I want this to serve as a reminder that tonight was the night I figured out what I wanted to be when I grow up…a detective."
 
At Angelo L. Tomaso and Woodland, numerous experts shared their passion.  A robotics scenario offered a glimpse into this challenging, cutting edge profession that involves designing, building, and programming machines. IT professionals explained how they develop and maintain E-trading systems to provide instantaneous buying and selling capability. Scenarios in the fashion and food industries were presented as well. Successful fashion merchandising requires that product lines include a diversity of products to appeal to varying tastes and preferences. Similarly, students learned how providing food service requires generating a menu to appeal to a wide range of tastes, as well as careful financial planning to ensure profitability. Another scenario had participants completing a task for a fictitious business acquaintance in Japan using a web-chat program, wherein they had to account for the language barrier and negotiate time-zone differences.  
 
While the children were focused on their own problem solving challenges, their parents were invited to partake in the evening by attending a parallel workshop geared towards teaching adults about 21st century learning.   In comparable fashion to the students, the adults were given a career scenario which included a problem to solve.  Through this hands-on method, parents viewed firsthand how 21st century learning impacts their children. The four educators who designed and organized this evening experience acted as mentors as well. They trained the career professionals to host their workshops using 21st century lesson plans, allowing them a solid structure based on best practice, through which to disseminate information, raise the bar, and most importantly, inspire children.
 
This was the second year of the Career Expo and it grew from one elementary school, to offerings at all four. The event originated when five Rider cohorts had to accomplish a project for graduate school. So with the support of Warren Township Schools, of their educational leadership program, Piller and her colleagues Andrew Ahimovic, Michelle Cebula, Kara Miletic and Jill Ziobro devised the first Career Expo in 2013 to align with curriculum goals and 21st century learning.  “Seeing it expand so significantly, and benefit so many more students this year, was exciting,” said Superintendent Dr. Tami Crader. What a memorable and successful experience it was for all. 
 
Special thanks to the following individuals who donated their time and talents to strengthen the school and community partnership: Julie Gnoy, Lillian Wang, Byron Salazar, Stephen Schneider, Christine Gubitosi, Rosemarie and Andy Logan, Mimi Tom, James Bodajlo, Stephanie Setzer, Frank Nuzzi, Cheryl Taylor, Caitlin Riccio, Bruce Levin, Daniel Foley, Martin Samelson, Cecilia Fontana, Tracy and Brian Kramer, Sidneia Sharif, Dan Madinabetia, James Simonelli, Lou Ducceschi, Mike Degen, John Kaiser, Sandip Mehta, Jim Standridge, Nim Sethi, Li Zhang, Christine Hong, Shilpu Gupta, Kim MacConnell, Danielle Scala, Cindy Percario, Dhruti Trivedi, Kathy Bond, Janet Milita, Scott Cook, Jeff Heaney, Brian Kilroy, Susan Leonard, Dorothy Stolfi, Anne Frank, Mary Ann McGann, Jenny Kaniuka, Danielle Porchetta, Nancy Andrews, Mary Lynch, Deanna DeRoner, Kathy Boraski, BethAnn Figueria, Cristina Ulloa, Mary Balkonis and Meghan Madden, as well as numerous custodians and PTO members.