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Career development project for incarcerated youth: preparing for the future.


The majority of twelfth graders across the United States participate in a culminating assessment that showcase student skills, introduce students to the community, and help prepare them for transitioning to college or the workplace (NCHSSY, 2001). This curriculum often consists of: career research, developing a professional portfolio, demonstrating work place technology, and hands on career demonstration project and juried presentation before peers and community mentors.

The National Commission on the High School Senior Year (2001) recommends high school students be better prepared to make the transition from high school to the world of work and higher education. The Commission wrote the primary goal of high schools should be graduating student who are capable of thinking critically, comfortable with the problem-solving process, and prepared for advanced education. The commission's analysis reveals as students use these skills to graduate high school and transition to the community and continuing education they earn greater incomes (National Commission on the High School Senior Year, 2001).

The staff at Robert Farrell School has long recognized the need to prepare incarcerated students for real work experiences. The school played important role in the development of career education protocol in Oregon, both in the public high school system and in the Youth Correctional Education Program. Robert Farrell participated in an Oregon Department of Education Certificate of Advanced Mastery pilot, and teachers participate in the ongoing Tools-N-Training professional development series with Chemeketa Community College. The Robert Farrell staff has presented their transition and career development activities at both regional and international Corrections Education Association conferences showcasing student work.

Youth have shared with staff at Robert Farrell School that completing their career development project was an important and relevant learning activity for them. Many students have stated they identified their future career interest through the process of completing a career development project for high school graduation.

Literature review

High school students frequently know little about career options, their own interests and skills, or what postsecondary activities are needed to achieve their goals. The premise that students benefit from knowledge about career options and the skills and training required for various occupations is the central idea behind the federal School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (Visher, Bhandari & Medrich , 2004). Many high schools require students to complete a culminating assessment as a prerequisite for graduation. The efficacy of this culminating assessment, usually referred to as the Senior Project has been widely documented (O'Grady, 1999; National Commission of the High School Senior Year, 2001; Egelson, 2003). According to Egelson, Robertson, Smith, & Hood (2003), the Senior Project integrates the skills of decision-making, planning, presenting, researching, time management, and writing. Senior projects often require students to select a mentor knowledgeable in their area of interest and study. Mentors advise students about realistic choices, provide insight into the student's effort and to serve as an advisor throughout their project and research (Milam, 2001). Teachers and community members from the local area often serve as mentors.

Student demonstration projects are a significant component in the learning process, because students must demonstrate their ability to solve problems and provide evidence of what they learned through their study and investigation (Karnes & Stephens, 2000). The student's presentation of the project and research to a juried panel of community members is the final step in the Senior Project. Students typically make a rehearsed presentation concerning their research and project, and then answer questions from the assembled audience. Shaunessy (2004) reports that communication skills, especially public speaking are invaluable for the students as they share information about their paper, project, and reflections about the experience.

A critical component of a successful senior project is the instructor's role as guide. The instructor must remain actively engaged in monitoring student progress, continually evaluate student abilities and needs, and provide targeted instruction to help students develop needed skills. According to Johnsen (2001), the teacher should remain flexible and allow student interest to develop at its own pace, model independent study habits, and recognize student improvement.

A culminating project during the senior year of high school assists students to acquire new skills in planning, research, writing, speaking, time management, work-related standards, and interpersonal self-confidence (Bond, S., Egelson, P., Harman, P., and Harman, S., 2002). The projects help students develop more focused career plans by allowing them to confirm or reject tentative career paths.

Research supports that students who participate in career development programs are more likely to graduate high school. Students exposed to career exploration experiences are considerably more likely to complete high school than those without career experience. The lowest dropout rates came from students in internships and mentoring programs (Visher, et al., 2004). Earnings also noticeably increase during a lifetime with the attainment of a high school diploma (Conlon, Harris, Nagel, Hillman, & Hanson, 2008).

Career development activities and transition planning are mandated for all students sixteen years or older who qualify for special education services. These youth must receive services to plan for successful post-secondary outcomes. High school transition planning includes exploring post-secondary opportunities and employment options and may include connecting with the adult service agencies that may provide the student with services when he or she graduates or turn 22 years of age (Americans With Disabilities Act of 2004, P.L. 108-446, Sec 603 (34)).

Studies focused on career development curriculum for incarcerated youth are limited; however, a few studies have linked career development with reduced recidivism. According to Lipsey & Wilson (1998) and Janic (1998), completion of academic and vocational curriculum for incarcerated youth focused on structured learning, school achievement, and job skills decrease recidivism after returning to the community. McGlynn (2003) recommends that transition planning begin as soon as a youth enters a correctional facility, and it should guide educational programming in the facility. Hosp, Griller-Clark, Rutherford (2001) suggest necessary transition proficiencies include career development skills such as completing a resume or filling out a job application. Griller-Clark (2003) considered a continuum of uninterrupted transition services essential to the access of community resources, opportunities, and supports.


Since 1999, Oregon has been working to design and implement effective opportunities to ensure students are prepared for successful transition into the adult world whether that be post high school academics, independent living, or the world of work. The State Board of Education has also worked on increasing diploma requirements.

In 2007, Oregon adopted a new work related requirement for student graduation called Essential Skills. Beginning no later than 2014 the state will no longer allow students to earn a diploma without the skills deemed necessary to succeed in the world. Essential Skills, according to the Oregon State Board of Education (2007), are process skills that are infused throughout the curriculum and applied in a variety of settings, such as:

* Read and interpret a variety of texts

* Write for a variety of purposes

* Speak and present publicly

* Apply mathematics in a variety of settings

* Demonstrate global literacy

* Use technology

* Demonstrate career related learning: personal management, teamwork, employment foundations, career development

* Think critically and analytically (including scientific inquiry, problem solving

* Demonstrate civic and community engagement The State Board of Education confirmed the following elements of current diploma requirements as aiding students in their planning for future education and career goals (Oregon, 2007).

* Education Plan and Profile: This documents a student's progress toward the state and local graduation requirements and will be used to measure student progress toward their personal goals.

* Career-Related learning Standards: Students will demonstrate knowledge and skills in personal management, problem solving, communication, teamwork, employment foundations, and career development.

* Career-Related learning Experiences: Students will participate in experiences that connect classroom learning with real life experiences in the workplace, community, and/or school relevant to their education plan.

* Extended Application: Students will apply and extend their knowledge in new and complex situations related to the student's personal and career interests and post-high school goals through critical thinking, problem solving, or inquiry in real world contexts.

Robert Farrell's current Career Development Project (CDP) has evolved over the past ten years into a curriculum consisting of two separate classes; CDP Documents and CDP Projects. Students with sixteen or more credits are enrolled into the CDP Documents class. The Documents curriculum is comprised of lessons that teach students to develop a resume, complete job applications, write letters of application and thank you letters, and begin the career research paper. In the CDP Projects class the teacher guides students as they complete the practical segment of their project. This class is student centered and based on individual programs to complete career readiness skills, plan and complete their culminating project, work with teachers and mentors on transition activities such as post-secondary planning and independent living skills, and prepare and deliver their oral presentation to the juried panel of peer and community evaluators. The total Career Development Project takes a minimum of one semester to complete.

During 2002-2003 Robert Farrell partnered with the Oregon Department of Education and other school districts to pilot methods for assessing the Career Related Learning Standards (CRLS) and Extended Application (EA). The pilot was designed to ensure that the assessment of standards was reliable, valid, and doable by teachers and students. The teachers worked with students during this time to develop collections of evidence that documented achievement of the standards. The primary purpose of the collections of evidence was to help students prepare for successful post-high school transitions.

Incarcerated youth find it more difficult than general population students to engage in transition activities and related state requirements intended to prepare youth to return to public school and/or prepare them to enter the workforce (Baltodano, Mathur & Rutherford, 2005). The perimeter fence around the Hillcrest campus can be a physical barrier to completing a career project. The fence barrier means the students cannot go out into the community for resources, mentors, job shadowing, internships, volunteering, or work experience. All of these resources must be come in from the outside or be provided for on the inside. Materials needed for projects such as wood and tools to build a carpentry model, a lawnmower engine and tools to learn small engine repair, or plants for a landscaping project must be ordered, and bought from outside the fence. All student phone calls to businesses or mentors out in the community or internet use for research must be closely supervised by school staff person for safety and security measures.

Numerous studies have observed that youth who have been incarcerated tend to be comparatively less successful than the youth in traditional education programs (Gilham, et. al. 1997; Virginia State Department of Correctional Education, 1988; Williamson, 1992). In a study by Barclay (2004), incarcerated youth perceived not having the right skills for the job and lack of experience in the world of work as barriers to employment. According to Leone (1991), "successful transition to the community requires the coordinated efforts of institutional staff, families, probation and aftercare professionals, and educators."

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to document student behaviors, career demonstration outcomes, and attitudes regarding completion of the required career development project and its relationship to high school completion and career success.

After piloting the new Career Development Project curriculum for a year it was decided to survey the students who had completed a career development project to gain the student's observations of their work, what they learned, and the value they placed on the experience. By analyzing the CDP student work, Robert Farrell School is able to meet three goals. First, to upgrade the school program to more effectively prepare students for their work readiness skill development and transition to postsecondary experiences. Second, the school is modifying the CDP curriculum to continue meeting the Oregon state graduation requirements, which are becoming progressively more complex. Third, the school is enriching the student experience as they explore their career interests and gain valuable job related transition skills.

Description of Population

Robert Farrell School is located on the campus of Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem, Oregon. Hillcrest is a juvenile corrections close-custody facility that serving students between the ages of 12 and 25. Hillcrest currently serves an all male population; however, at the time of the study the student body was 35% female and 65% male. Most of these youth are adjudicated under the Oregon Youth Authority; however, there are also youth from the adult Department of Corrections on the Hillcrest campus. The school enrolls an average of 185 youth, and provides general education, special education, and post high school services. Robert Farrell School is a fully accredited High School operated by the Willamette Education Service District. Online and correspondence college courses are offered to high school graduates.


Since 2003 there have been seventy-three students enrolled in the career curriculum at Robert Farrell. Data has been collected on these youth, tracking gender, ethnicity, date of birth, special education eligibility, if they are a high school graduate, age at graduation, and if they continued to be in the juvenile system or living independently.

Twenty-eight students, from the original seventy-three, who were attending Robert Farrell School during the months of December 2006 through February 2007, answered a survey comprising ten open-ended questions. Students, with the guidance of the CDP teachers developed, delivered and collected the survey questions from Robert Farrell students who were still on campus, had completed their CDP projects, or were currently enrolled in the CDP projects course.


The 73 students included in the longitudinal study consisted of 64% males (N = 47) and 36% females (N = 26) keeping with the total student population; 72% were Caucasian (N =53), 9% Hispanic (N = 9), 9% (African American N = 9), and .02% Pacific Island/Asian (N = 2). At the time of this writing 36%, of these students are living independently, 50% males and 50% females, while 64% are still incarcerated (N = 48). Twenty-six percent of the students (N =19) are special education eligible and 53% are high school graduates (N=39). Typically at Robert Farrell School high school graduates are older at the time of graduation than the eighteen-year-old public school graduate. Of the thirty-nine students who have completed a Career Project and completed high school, 23% are age twenty or older (N=9); 38% were age nineteen (N=15), 31% were under the age of nineteen, and there is no recorded graduation date for the remaining three students.

Career Development

Many career interests are researched by the students from accounting to professional writing for a total of 40 different careers. Music performance was the most studied topic. Business planning and small business development came in second. The topics of art display, coaching, culinary arts, cosmetology, mechanics, and providing medical services were among career areas also researched and demonstrated.

There are two students whose academic work and career development illustrate this personal connection. One student is Renee who is living in the community successfully. The other is John currently on the Hillcrest Youth Correctional facility campus and attending school to complete his high school requirements.

Renee finished her career development project on Medical Assisting. After completing her commitment with the Oregon Youth Authority, she attended a local community college completing her Associates Degree. Renee is currently supervising a medical office, buying her first home, and caring for her mother.

John is a young man who has turned his love of outdoors and working with his hands into a small business on campus. John is responsible for working with school and facility staff to plan every detail of the project such as placement of the garden on the campus, equipment, labor, and materials needed, writing for donations of equipment and materials, supervising work crews, and developing the business plan with the campus food services. His business plan incorporates a campus supervisor and planning board to oversee the twenty raised garden beds John built to grow vegetables and herbs for the campus food service.

These two students exemplify how the career related learning standards and essential skills are integrated in the career development project at Robert Farrell to demonstrate planning, research, writing, speaking, time management, work-related standards, and interpersonal self-confidence. These proficiencies are critical for incarcerated youth as they transition back to the community.


1. How long did it take you to finish your project? The average time to finish a career project was 17 months and the most common being 6 months.

2. Did you ever change your project topic? If so, how many times? When asked if they had ever changed their topic, nine of the youth replied yes and eighteen students said no. Five students said they had changed their topic once, three students had changed their topic twice, and one student stated he had changed their topics three times.

3. Did you enjoy doing your project? Not one student replied negatively when asked if they enjoyed doing their project; however, 3 students gave "somewhat" enjoyed as their answer, while the remaining 25 answered yes. "Somewhat. I enjoyed calling colleges and get enrolled and learning about the classes."

What is one thing you liked the most about doing your project? The majority of the 28 youth stated "learning" as the number one answer to what they liked best about completing their projects; four students listed "doing" the project; and six implied the practical work.

"Yes, I enjoyed doing the hands-on part of my project. I enjoyed building my set once I knew what it was going to look like." "I enjoyed doing my project very much and especially meeting with my mentor."

4. What is one thing you like the least about doing your project? When asked about their least favorite element of the project the overwhelming answer from eight students was writing with a close second for paperwork from 5 youth. There is an important emphasis on grammar and language arts. Lack of resources public presentations, and self-advocating were rated fourth by 4 students each.

5. Did you learn a lot from your project? Twenty-seven of the twenty-eight students replied "yes" they did learn a lot from their project. The twenty-eighth student answered "kind of".

6. Is your CDP a career you would like to pursue? If not, what would you like to do instead? Twenty-three replied yes to this question, three youth said no, 1 youth gave no answer, and one student said he didn't know for sure. The other choices for careers included an electrician, construction/real estate; own a club, cafe owner, and the last student stated he would rather own a music shop than teach music.'

7. On a scale of 1--10 how much thought and effort did you put into your project? (1 being the least and 10 being the greatest)

One the scale of 1 to 10 the least effort recorded was six, by two students and the greatest effort was 13 by one enthusiastic student. Twenty-one percent felt they had given the project their full effort making 10 on the scale (N=6); eighteen percent rated their effort with a nine (N=5); twenty-five percent gave their effort an eight (N=7); fifteen percent rated their effort with a seven on the scale (N=4); and the remainder three students rated their efforts as 7.5, 8.5, and 9.5.

"13, I was always thinking about what I could do for a demonstration."

"10 because I did everything I could to make it great."

8. How did completing the CDP project help prepare you for a job or career after high school?

In answering this question twelve of the student mentioned learning in some capacity, nine stated they learned about their career, two learned about schools, and two learned new skills.

"I had to gather information on decent schools and apprenticeship programs so now I know which ones are the best and which ones I'll be best suited for."

"It gives me a general idea of what I will be faced with, when trying to find a job."

Two students wrote that completing their CDP would help them earn their diploma and two were prepared to write a resume.

"I was able to graduate and get my diploma as well as learn more about the career."

Two students noted researching and experience in answer to the question. Two students wrote the project didn't help prepare them for a job or a career, but of the two said they "just had fun." One student is currently working on becoming a limousine driver. He is having "fun" thinking about the idea. It is important to remember that similar skills sets are necessary to success in any career field that is chosen by the youth.

9. Who would you say helped you the most? Why? The highest rated answer given by the students was Teacher Mentors (N=14); the second rated answer was Community Mentor (N=8); 4 students listed friends, and 2 students listed family as people who helped the most.

"Mr. Kruse pushes me to do my best and not give up and takes time to help me."

"I would say Mr. Kruse and Ms. Snider because they were always pushing me to get it done and done right."

"My mentor, he was always there to help and to give me good feedback and materials etc."

10. Would you change the CDP project class in any way? If so, how? 68% (N=19) of the study youth said they would not change the CDP project class in any way . One student gave no answer and the remaining 26% (N=8) suggested changes such as:

"More time to talk & manage our own time"

"More internet access"

"Too much writing"

"Need more time to work"

Summary and Recommendations

The majority of the students involved in the Career Development Project curriculum at Robert Farrell School believe it is a worthwhile endeavor. There are three areas of significance. First, students enjoyed the hands on career projects and learned a good deal about careers they are personally interested in and the necessary steps to enter the job market. Second, community and teacher mentors were shown to be a valued component of the program. Finally, the survey results show the predominant acceptance of the CDP curriculum by the students. These results have implications for juvenile corrections education programs regarding transition curriculum for students approaching high school completion.

This curriculum or similar approach is important for a successful transition to community living for incarcerated youth. Bullis, Yovanoff, Havel, & Mueller (2001) support this assertion. The Oregon Department of Education completed five years of research culminating in the Career Development Learning Standards [site] argues that every school district in Oregon needs to demonstrate the importance of all students learning and evaluating their work from the perspective of the CRLS and having a career project as part of graduation requirements. The current national emphasis on Service Learning is opening new avenues for youth in correctional settings to improve global literacy and civic awareness as part of the development of their career pathways.


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Biographical Sketches --

BARBARA MOODY is a Special Education Case Manager at Robert Farrell School. She has taught at this juvenile corrections facility for over thirteen years.

GORDON KRUSE is the Career Development Project instructor at Robert Farrell School Gordon was awarded the Correction Education Association Region VI Teacher of the Year Award in 2006 for his leadership and service in career education and transition activities over the past decade.

JEFFREY NAGEL is the director of the Mid-Willamette Education Consortium at Chemeketa Community College.

BILL CONLON is the principal of Robert Farrell High School.
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Author:Moody, Barbara; Kruse, Gordon; Nagel, Jeffrey; Conlon, Bill
Publication:Journal of Correctional Education
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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