Students at Union High School seeking a career right out of high school are in luck, due to a new program at the school.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) program Pathways to Prosperity is an education initiative the high school adopted over the summer, designed to build bridges for high school students looking to take the career route after high school.

The program tasks several high school teachers with meeting with local business leaders and gauging what they look for in a new hire straight out of high school and adjusting curriculum to reflect that.

Assistant Principal Dan Kania said he believes the Pathways program is a good way for the school to help its students who struggle in courses that will not help them in their future careers. He said it solves the “when am I going to need this” problem teachers often face.

“I think so far the biggest feedback is surprise. Kids are saying, ‘Hey, there is actually a class for me,’” Kania said. “What they’ve heard from their teachers is that we’re going to find out what’s relevant to their world and we’re going to find out how to help them with their needs.”

Kania said the importance of students getting real workforce experience before they leave the halls of Union High School is paramount to their success, whether they’re heading to college or the workforce.

He said the best way to implement the training of those skills is through daily activities in the classroom that integrate skill-based learning.

“The teachers have been excited as well because students who have traditionally struggled are actually wanting to do the things we’re asking them to do,” Kania said.

They’re excited because there is a relevance to their future.”

One of the first areas where the curriculum has changed for interested students is in language arts. Kania said, for some students, work on technical writing and reporting is being emphasized.

He said the sort of writing the typical language arts class requests of a student often does not translate well to the workforce.

“We’ve been able to add a language arts class that is shaping our career and technical writing,” Kania said. “We’re putting more of a realistic, real world-minded focus into our language arts. That was one of the real first steps this year.”

In late May, the high school launched the new program by visiting other high schools in the area and in St. Louis that have been using the program.

Washington High School Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer met with Union administrators to give them a better idea of how the program benefitted the high school.

Some of Union’s teachers also visited area businesses like Mercy Hospital Washington, Volpi Foods, Union, and several others.

Kania said at a meeting later this week, he and a collection of high school teachers will be looking ahead to what will be next for the program, and its long-term future.

He said one of the main aspects of planning will be garnering resources for the program.

“We want to figure out how far we can take this and what resources do we need to do that,” Kania said. “Our long-range goal is to build this to where we’re offering a full experience for a career-minded student in all academic areas.”

He added that a very long-term goal would be to have off-site facilities where students could work on soft skills but said that those ideas were “way down the road.”

For now, the Pathways team at the high school will focus on curriculum changes and growing job shadowing and externship opportunities for Union students.