In 2017, Celestia Hammond decided she could deal with a dog peeing on the floor. A job shadow of a Billings veterinarian reinforced for Hammond, then a Skyview High School senior, that she wanted to become a vet. She liked the people, liked the animals, and liked the vibe at the office.

What Hammond didn’t get a chance to see was a window into the eight-plus years of school it took to become a vet, and the financial debt and stress associated with that. Now a sophomore at Montana State University, she’s still studying a scientific field but no longer plans to become a vet.

The job shadow, she said, was “definitely important. That was probably something I should have done more of… (But) it was only saw one snapshot.”

The fledgling program Hammond participated in was a new project at Skyview at the time. It’s continued, but job shadow programs are still limited across School District 2.

An operational levy on spring mail ballots would raise school taxes to fund four high school career counselors, one for Skyview, West, Senior and the Career Center, along with extensive textbook replacements. The counselors would be tasked with helping students explore career routes and setting up things like job shadows and other workplace learning.

Hammond said she could have used more breadth and depth in career exploration during high school, not just behind the jobs themselves, but the paths to get there.

“I probably would have been exploring more degrees,” she said.

Tina Boone, a Skyview counselor who has spearheaded the job shadow program, said that counselors have provided consistent academic support, but have seen a steep rise in time spent “connecting students to resources to address mental health needs.”

“This translates to less time counselors can spend on connecting students to career, workforce and post-secondary possibilities,” she said.

Boone listed a host of activities that students would ideally participate in — industry tours, field trips, job shadows, job fairs, mentorships, internships, plus more in-depth counseling for students about how to pursue career paths through four-year or two-year college, industry training or military service.

“Beginning early in their education, we need to expose students to multiple career options,” she said.

The tack echoes a refrain from superintendent Greg Upham, who has pushed the district to develop course tracks that would prepare students to take classes that could earn college credit or participate in work-based opportunities while still in high school.

Hammond was reluctant to generalize her experience to other students, or gauge how much other students valued early career planning.

“That sort of depends on the student,” she said. “That sounds really, really cliché, but it’s true.”

For her, college was “a totally different ballgame, and things change.”

Coming to grips with realizing that she didn’t want to follow a career track she’d targeted for years wasn’t easy.

“I felt lost for a while,” she said.

But she agreed that if students can figure out what they want to do early, and stick to it, it could be a win-win.

“It would save people a lot of time and money and stress,” she said.

Ballots for the levy are mailed out on April 19 and due back on May 7.

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