Person of the Week
Ready for Launch: Using Preps OSHS Students for Next Steps
Old Saybrook High School College and Career Readiness Coordinator Carina Using is grateful for community support as she helps students find their path forward from high school. (Photo courtesy of Carina Using)
All high school students have had a moment where they thought to themselves, “I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life.” Luckily for Old Saybrook High School (OSHS) students, they have Carina Using, the college and career readiness coordinator, to help them find some guidance.
In her role, Carina is charged with helping OSHS students figure out what kinds of career they might be interested in pursing once they leave high school.
“Old Saybrook, and it’s not typical of most towns, has a commitment to making sure kids don’t just get their diploma and get out. We really want to make sure the kids are ready,” explains Carina.
Carina says the program is meant for all kids with all ranges of interest, whether that’s going to college or going directly into the job market.
“It’s a very individualized program. Whether it’s a kid who wants to be a brain surgeon or the best plumber the shoreline has ever seen, it’s making sure they have all the information to make an informed decision,” says Carina.
The program is particularly useful, she says, because many kids’ perceptions of certain jobs are based on what they see in movies or television, which is not always the best guide.
“They’re not real! Even reality shows aren’t real, so it’s making sure they have the most Info they can have,” says Carina.
Sometimes, that even includes finding out that some jobs that kids thought they may have been interested in aren’t perfect fits.
“And that’s OK! They find out they might be interested in something similar, but not that exact field and now they know what an interest might be,” she explains.
Carina says the program starts working with the students when they are freshman and sophomores by learning more about each student.
“That’s when they’re learning more about their interests and strengths,” says Carina.
As they get older, the kids have chances to work internships in a variety of fields and businesses, which is a highly unusual chance for high school kids.
“I have a very robust Rolodex of places to call. It’s very much like what you do in college. We usually had 90 kids placed in internships, which is amazing for a small school,” Carina says.
Unfortunately, things changed in 2020.
“When COVID hit, the internships came to a screeching halt. We had to revamp the whole program without students leaving the building,” Carina says.
However, that revamping has led to new opportunities. The program instead became a virtual internship program that opened up opportunities to learn from professionals beyond what could be found locally. Carina says that she hopes to use both in person local internships and virtual internships as kids are allowed to return to places in person again.
For Carina, she says the best part is watching kids began to find out what it is they may go on to do.
“It’s so exciting watching the students go through the process. For the first time really, it’s their life, their interests, and their choices they get to go after,” she says. “I feel like it’s such privilege to be a part of what the kids go through on their journey. It’s powerful to be a part of their growth.”
Carina says she has a stack of letters she has received from former student over the years—sometimes long after they left OSHS—thanking her for her help in starting them on their career interest.
“What better thing is there than there are people who I maybe had a little piece of helping make their life better?” Carina asks.
Carina also singles out College and Career Readiness Co-Coordinator Sarah Fawcett as having been a big help with the program since she came aboard.
When detailing how she came to run the program, Carina says with a laugh, “I came to Old Saybrook by way of six states and a couple different countries.”
Carrina was born in Colorado and moved to the east coast in elementary school. She got her first taste of Connecticut in high school when she went to Loomis Chaffee. Then over her adult life she lived everywhere from Alaska to Washington state to Europe.
Carina says she knew she didn’t want to be a teacher, but wanted to work education adjacent such as working with kids with neurodivergent issues. While living in Norway, Carina was exposed to different methods of educating young people on careers.
“Norway is very cutting edge for career education for young people. It was really great to see different ways things are done,” says Carina.
Eventually, Carina moved to Connected to be closer to family in the area and has been with OSHS since 2006.
In her spare time, Carina can be found gardening and staying active outdoors. Carina says her favorite part of Old Saybrook is how supportive the town and business community has been of her program.
“The businesses deserve has much credit as anyone, including me, for making this program run. The Board of Education, too, as long as I’ve been here has been a driving force for this program,” says Carina.
“Every year no matter what was going on with the budget or anything, the town has been so committed to this. I think it says a lot about what our priorities are that we have this program.”
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