“I love what I do,” said Lori McGee Holland, Career Pathways instructor and Distributive Education Clubs of America co-advisor at Itawamba Agricultural High School. A 19-year teacher veteran, Holland spearheaded IAHS’ Career Pathways pilot program two years ago, which replaced the former co-op program with a curriculum that provides more options for students and more focus on work experience.
Holland has invested enthusiasm, motivation and creativity as well as high expectations, both for herself and her students, to revitalize and extend the Career Pathways program. “I have to push myself to push them.” She tells her students, “We’re in this together,” and in her experience, the students, their parents, the school and the community have responded positively to her efforts. In fact, her program is thriving: parents have even called the district superintendent to request that their children be in her class, her students are diverse and well-performing high achievers and the community recognizes Holland and her students as a reliable resource for volunteers.
As part of the Career Pathways program, students participate in part-time jobs, internships or apprenticeships for school credit, and through classroom instruction, they learn crucial workplace and life skills. Due to Holland’s innovations, her students further their experience through participation in hands-on entrepreneurial activities such as The Tee Pee, a school-based retail store that her students, along with the IAHS Marketing students, fully operate and maintain, selling a variety of goods from school supplies to Scentsy products. Her students are also expected to participate in multiple community service projects, including the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree project and bell-ringing kettle drive, the Itawamba County Food Pantry and special holiday events for residents at a skilled nursing home in the area.
Holland often employs nontraditional means, “whatever it takes,” to teach her classes. Whether she’s taking her students to Graceland or wearing a full kimono and serving them sushi, her passion for what she does – for teaching and giving back – is evident in every lesson. “I can only plant those seeds. They may not harvest them right now. It may be 10 years or 20 years from now. But I want to make a difference in their lives. That’s what it’s all about.”