BERLIN — Worcester County educators are excited about a new college and career planning program being phased into the curriculum this year. Though planning for life after high school is nothing new for Worcester, the Naviance program is unique in its scope and teachers told the Board of Education last week they think it will have a huge impact over the next few years.

“One of the features of the Naviance program is that it connects learning to life,” said Donna Main, head of Guidance Services for Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS). “And it’s a realistic look at what students have to do in order to be successful in college and careers. It’s very personalized and it helps students create a plan.”

Naviance, a combination of “Navigation” and “Guidance,” is in its first year at WCPS with the first phase being implemented for students in grades 6 through 11. Eventually, Naviance will encompass high school seniors as well, but educators didn’t want to overwhelm this year’s crop of 12th graders.

The process starts early with sixth graders this year getting an early look at where their paths could go in middle school, high school and immediately after graduation.

“In the fall, I was able to take all of my 285 6th graders to the Worcester Technical High School where we were able to look at the STEM academies, learn about those and actually get them to start thinking about what’s going to happen when they’re in middle school and actually want to apply to a STEM academy,” said Michelle Bankert, guidance counselor at Berlin Intermediate School.

Though everything was preliminary, Bankert told the school board that students displayed a lot of interest and that the Naviance program helped dispel some misconceptions that they had.

“They never knew there were so many colleges,” she said. “When we first started looking at colleges, they were overwhelmed with how many colleges there are. The other thing, they were overwhelmed with was how much college costs.”

Naviance continues through middle school where educators begin to lay the groundwork for path planning. One of the major goals with Naviance is to look at “realistic” options. While teachers and counselors will never discourage a student from wanting to pursue a career in something like professional sports, they will explain how difficult such a path really is and make sure that the student considers backup options.

This is further elaborated on in high school. One thing that Naviance does differently is emphasize the difference between working toward a career and simple job readiness.

“We want these students to be college and career ready, not college and take a job,” said Tom Davis, principal at Snow Hill High School. “We want them to get a career. This particular program has a way of showing students all of the opportunities and possibilities that exist out there. Students may only know a small portion of careers that are available.”

As part of the initial phase, information has been gathered this year through the use of several different tools including general interest surveys. The plan is to use the information to adjust the program strategies starting next fall for all students in grades 6 to 12.

“Next fall, building on the information collected and stored electronically, counselors will help students identify their strengths and interests and plan post-graduation plans based on that information,” read a release from WCPS. “The current class of juniors will be able to use Naviance as seniors to identify colleges that meet their goals and to apply to those colleges.”

Following college, Davis pointed out that Naviance will also give students an idea of how to start along their first career path.