OPRF's College and Career Pathway endorsements offer students a chance to deeper explore potential careers. Left to right: Ava Ashton, teacher Jaclyn Thompson, and Rosalie Lagattolla. | Provided

Oak Park and River Forest High School celebrated the first two students to receive the new College and Career Pathways endorsement CCPE as the school continues to add additional pathways to give their students a leg up post-graduation.

Senior Ava Ashton and junior Rosalie Lagattolla both completed the Certified Nursing Assistant Program, receiving their CCPE in Health Science and Technology.

Julie Lam, director of student learning at OPRF, said a goal of the high school is to focus on post-secondary school preparation and help provide students with college and career pathway endorsements as part of The Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act PWR, which was signed into Illinois law in 2016 to help students be more prepared for college and careers. 

The endorsements demonstrate a student’s readiness for postsecondary programs and entry-level experiences in a selected career. OPRF was approved by the Illinois State Board of Education for their first pathway, Health Science and Technology, which falls under the OPRF CNA program, which has been running at the high school for the past six years. 

“Once they go through all the requirements, they are able to graduate with a seal on their transcript for a particular college and career pathway,” Lam said, adding that endorsement was added first as the CNA program had a smaller gap to close to meet all the requirements for an endorsement. 

The students completed career-focused courses, including 60 hours of work experience at Rush Oak Park Hospital as well as completing two projects and having an outside mentor. 

Lam said one of the projects is done at Rush and the other is in collaboration with The Sheridan of River Forest, which offers assisted living for seniors. 

“It is amazing that we have two community-based organizations, close to OPRF, that are willing to partner with us so that our students can have this opportunity,” Lam said. 

Lagattolla said in a press release by OPRF that she was proud to be one of the first to complete the program. 

“It makes me feel good to be one of the first students to get the CCPE,” Lagatolla said. “Now that the program will be in place for next year, more students can take the class and get exposed to the same subjects that I did.” 

Ashton, 18, already knew she wanted to be part of the medical field when she began on the Health Science and Technology pathway. 

“When I was little, I loved going to the doctor and I just loved everything in the medical field so I always just kind of knew,” Ashton told Wednesday Journal. 

Having the endorsement on her transcript will help set her apart from others, as it showcases her dedication to her chosen field, said Ashton, who will be pre-med in the fall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

“I had an amazing experience with the class, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to go into the medical field. It really affirmed that I wanted to go into that field,” Ashton said. “It was a lot of outside and extra work. I would only recommend it to people who are diligent about their schoolwork because you must keep up with it.”

Jaclyn Thompson, applied technology teacher who runs the CNA program at OPRF, said the program gives students a chance to find out if that field is something they like. 

“This class allows them the opportunity to try it out and see if they like that before they get into college and are more committed to it,” Thompson said. “We always have a few kids who decide ‘Hey, I don’t think this is for me,’ which I find just as beneficial.” 

OPRF added a second pathway option, Human and Public Services: Education, for their 2023-24 school year for students who are interested in being teachers, said Lam, who added that the program already has a healthy enrollment number. 

“We all hear about the teacher shortage out there, so why not provide our students who are interested in becoming future teachers the opportunity to get ahead?” Lam said. 

While the high school was not required by the Illinois State Board of Education to provide a pathway until 2025, Lam said it was important for her to start the work and give students those opportunities. 

Currently, the Illinois State Board of Education offers seven endorsement areas: Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Arts and Communications, Finances and Business Services, Information Technology, and Manufacturing, Engineering, Technology, and Trades. 

“I am very happy that we are ahead of schedule by two years, that we were able to submit for 2023 and we will continue to submit,” Lam said, adding the seals help students stand out. 

“They have something formal and official that says they have made a commitment to their career pathway.” 

Participating in a pathway requires pre-planning, which is why Lam said they start making students aware of the options as incoming freshmen. According to Lam, most students who are interested enroll in the courses their junior year. 

As OPRF continues to work to provide additional opportunities to students, Lam said it is important to ensure those opportunities are “diverse,” including those that don’t require a traditional four-year college degree. 

“I think it is great that we are bringing these things in so that we have more options for students to choose from,” Lam said.

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