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INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana state senator wants to see schools offer career coaching, potentially starting as young as early elementary school.

State Sen. Jeff Raatz (R-Richmond), who chairs the Senate education committee, is working on a bill that would launch a pilot program to educate students about career options.

There are still a lot of details to be worked out, Raatz said, but the program could involve special classes and one-on-one counseling for older students.

“We just need to do a better job, and it’s not being critical by any means, but certainly helping students to have a better idea of what they want to do at least by their sophomore year, by the end of their sophomore year,” Raatz said. “And looking at work-based learning opportunities.”

The goal is to help students figure out which career they would like to pursue before they get to college so they can complete internships while in high school, Raatz said. It could also help those headed to college start those classes sooner and graduate on time, he added.

“We could look at students coming out of high school with at least a year of college credits and ideally two years of college credits,” he said.

Indiana’s counselor-to-student ratio is roughly 450 to 1, according to Andrew Smeathers, advocacy committee chair for the Indiana School Counselors Association. That’s nearly twice the 250 to 1 ratio his national organization recommends, he added.

“We as the counselors really have to manage what goes on in the classroom, what’s going on at home, what’s going on with peers and then making sure that we figure out that plan for after high school,” Smeathers said.

The Indiana School Counselors Association met with Raatz to discuss ways to implement career coaching in schools, Smeathers said.

Under the proposal, schools could hire more counselors specifically for career counseling, according to Raatz.

“Having people from education backgrounds come in and do this career coaching job that would make us feel good because they understand how the school system works,” Smeathers said.

Some educators say they support the concept.

“I think the long-term benefit is that there will be more clarity and understanding as students get closer to that point of decision-making,” said Robert Taylor, associate executive director for the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents.

Rachel Burke, president of the Indiana PTA, said while she supports the idea of introducing kids to various careers, she hopes the legislation will prevent schools and counselors from persuading kids to choose a particular path, especially at a young age.

“We should not be telling children, or adults to be quite frank, what careers they should go into,” Burke said. “We should give them options.”

If the proposal becomes law, the program would be tried in a handful of school districts before the state decides whether it should be expanded statewide, Raatz said.

Details about funding are still in the works, but the program may start off being paid for with grants or federal funding, Raatz said. Lawmakers would have to wait until the budget is rewritten in 2023 to allocate state funding, he added.