Deciding on a career path can be tough for young people, but the Alaska Commission on Post-Secondary Education (ACPE) wants to get elementary students thinking about that decision early on.

ACPE works to promote access to education and career training for Alaskans beyond high school.

As part of a program called "I Know I Can," ACPE staff and community volunteers visit second-grade classrooms around the state to talk with students about potential careers. 

Shelly Morgan, a K-12 specialist with ACPE, visited Mrs. Martin’s second-grade class at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in mid-February.

Morgan says kids can start to imagine themselves in their futures by age 7.

"It's a perfect time to really reach out and connect with students and get them starting to think about those options and think about what feels like a good choice for them," Morgan said during her visit with Mrs. Martin’s class. "Being able to connect the importance of their academics right now with their future really helps students to really put that extra effort in in the school time."

As part of the classroom visit, ACPE gives each student a book titled "I Know I Can," in which fictional characters explore what they want to be when they grow up. Students take the lessons from the story and apply them to their own lives.

"We have them not only draw, but also write what they want to be, so then we're working with them on their spelling, and helping them sound out the different words, and they're able to really start to visualize themselves when they're drawing themselves, and what they want to be," Morgan said.

Some of Mrs. Martin’s students are already making big plans for their futures. 

"I want to be a singer because I have a lovely voice and I love to sing a lot," said Oceana, a student in Mrs. Martin's class. 

Others need a little help brainstorming ideas.  

When one student said she was passionate about animals, Morgan made some suggestions. "Maybe you’d be a veterinarian, or maybe you might work in a zoo," Morgan said.

"I Know I Can" volunteer Adam Leggett says visiting the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School was particularly important to him because of the potential impact on rural Alaska.

"A lot of these students, they may want to go back to their rural communities,” Leggett said. “Having educated Alaska Native professionals is going to be critical to keeping those communities thriving.” 

ACPE keeps the drawings that the students make of their future selves. They’ll keep them for two years, then mail them back to the students as they enter fourth grade, to remind them of their goals.

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