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Eight Western Pa. school districts launch project to personalize education

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 1:02 p.m.

Thousands of students in eight school districts will use smartphones or laptops to write career goals so teachers can better help them achieve their aspirations.

“I expect kids to be doing this beginning in middle school and working all the way through high school to create a post-secondary plan,” said Mary K. Babyak, director of initiatives for The Consortium for Public Education.

Babyak oversees the program called My Action Plan for Success initiative, or MAPS, in which Albert Gallatin, Chartiers Valley, Clairton City, Greensburg Salem, Laurel Highlands, McKeesport and Sharon City and Pittsburgh Public Schools will participate.

MAPS is designed to prompt students to think about possible career classes and grades they need, and how extracurricular activities fit into their goals. The program uses a digital tool called eMAPS that enables students to record vocational goals, outside interests and impressions of classes and activities to share with their teachers.

“We need to have a big-picture look at the whole child — how do we support those kids?” Babyak said.

Eileen Amato, superintendent of Greensburg Salem, said the high school brings graduates back and tapes their comments about what the school did well and what it could have done better.

“This is a very constructive thing to get young people thinking of plans because the days of having one or two employers over a lifetime are gone,” said Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. “The economy is volatile, and we have to adapt to a world labor market.”

The Heinz Endowments, the Benedum Foundation and The Buhl Foundation contributed $600,000 over two years toward the project.

The participating school districts vary in levels of student achievement but agree on the value of helping students focus on career pursuits, officials said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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