By Patty Cooke / May 31, 2018

Mapping your future in middle school

WorkKeys®-aligned Career Expeditions exciting piece of Yankton (SD) School District’s employability plan 

Imagine being a seventh or eighth grader and seeing your future open up before your eyes. That’s the reality for middle schoolers in Yankton, South Dakota, who are poised to be among the most employable high school graduates – once they get there – thanks to a concentrated effort by their teachers and administrators to instill lifelong 21st-century skills as early as middle school.

While high school students in the Yankton School District already enjoy a robust career-centered curriculum that includes internships and a World of Work program, administrators were looking for something to introduce younger students to the various careers available to them.

“When kids as eighth graders go to register for a ninth-grade class, they don’t know what some of the class titles even are, and they don’t know what a career cluster is or what a CTE class would even be,” explained Yankton Middle School Principal Todd Dvoracek. “So, we really needed to educate our students on that.”

The Pitsco Modules program, which Yankton Middle School has been using for the past 20 years, gives students a small taste of real-world work. But when administrators heard about Pitsco’s new Career Expeditions, they were more than eager to give them a try.


“When we came down [to visit Pitsco’s campus], we were still looking for that area of employability and getting kids experiences in a lot of different areas,” said Dvoracek. “When we heard [about the Career Expeditions], we were like, ‘Oh man, we have to get this. How soon can we get this?’”

So, in January 2018, the district became the first location in the US to beta test the new curriculum. And so far, all indications are that it is the perfect fit, giving Yankton seventh and eighth graders a variety of real-world experiences before they choose specific career paths at Yankton High School.

“If you use it with kids early on – middle school – it gives them a basis for what they should be doing at the high school level in terms of matching classes with their future plans and matching their interests with internship and shadowing opportunities,” Yankton Middle School Career Expeditions Facilitator Luke Youmans said of the Now Hiring Career Expedition, an overarching experience that introduces students to the 16 national career clusters, explains the types of careers, and delivers skills-matching and personality assessments.

“There were some [students] that were like, ‘Yep, this is exactly what I have talked about,’” said Youman’s counterpart, Tiffany Beste. “But I think they really enjoyed that it was so directed at them specifically, not just something that covers every eighth-grade student – it was directed specifically at their skills and their personality.” 

Connecting to Business and Industry

And now that middle schoolers have the tools they need to explore different careers, what better than to introduce them to local community members who can give them firsthand knowledge of those fields and the workforce?

“We have subject matter experts out in our community, and they are more than willing to come in,” said Dvoracek. And the flexibility of Career Expeditions enables teachers to explore those options. “You can bring in a speaker to talk, or the teacher can design a lesson for the whole class and design a lesson for a paired group. . . . We’re excited about some of that flexibility to where it’s going to continue to keep our students engaged. But it’s also going to continue to keep our teachers engaged with it.”


Even more exciting is the fact that the Career Expeditions are designed around national career clusters and have been profiled against the ACT® WorkKeys® National Career Readiness Certificate® (NCRC®) assessments, especially since South Dakota is a WorkKeys state.

“At the high school level, they are pushing that employability skills test with the NCRC,” said Dvoracek. “We’re excited about that as well. I know that our students who are coming out with bronze, silver, gold, platinum certificates, they’re employable right away, and they have that form forever. You’re going to get hired and be making some good wages right away, within our area and within the state.”

To learn more about how Yankton School District is preparing their students for fulfilling futures, read “‘Stay in Yankton’“ and “Expeditions align with WorkKeys and NCRC“ on


TOPICS: IN THE CLASSROOM, Middle School, Careers, Career Expeditions, WorkKeys

Patty Cooke

Written by Patty Cooke

Hello! I work as a communications assistant here at Pitsco, editing, writing, helping with publications, and working with other departments to help create awesome STEM materials and resources. I learned my love of storytelling from my dad, who constantly entertained me and my 11 siblings with the most fascinating, albeit fictional, stories. His tales kept us out of our mother’s hair for a while and probably saved her sanity. Our blog posts aren’t fictional, of course, but I still enjoy infusing the same amount of fun that Dad put into his stories. I hope reading these posts brings you equal enjoyment.