It's easy to be involved in your child's education during elementary school, but it gets tougher during the teen years as adolescents go through middle and junior high school. That's the time when they're longing for independence from you, yet ironically, it's also when they continue to need your support and guidance to head them toward discovering future possibilities.

It's easy to be involved in your child's education during elementary school, but it gets tougher during the teen years as adolescents go through middle and junior high school. That's the time when they're longing for independence from you, yet ironically, it's also when they continue to need your support and guidance to head them toward discovering future possibilities.

Thanks to the National Middle School Association (NMSA), we celebrate October as the Month of the Young Adolescent. In fact, NMSA is sponsoring a podcast competition; encourage your child to enter by October 31. An additional artwork contest will be held in the spring. If your child is between 10 and 15 years old, check out the contests at www.nmsa.org/moyu/.

I'd also like to share with you some wonderful programs, websites and resources that may help you explore future paths for your youngsters.

Sometimes adolescents learn the most from older teens. See if your school district or community organizations have mentoring or tutoring programs available with high school students in your area. Any chance you get to expose your child to positive role models who are a few years older can be beneficial, as we found out this summer.

We had the opportunity at the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to be involved in a mentoring project with Metro High School students and Columbus sixth and seventh-graders at Eastmoor and Franklin Alternative middle schools. The high school students took the sixth- and seventh-graders on an exciting trip to COSI where they talked about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities. The COSI trip was the first step in what they hope will be a mentoring relationship over the next several years.

"I want them to know there are opportunities for them like our STEM school, that there are careers and jobs out there that can get them into technology and mathematics, not just traditional jobs, like firefighters," said Kate Schneider, a Metro ninth-grader.

Eric Troy, associate director of 21st century skills at ODE, said, "We believe that by exposing minority students to STEM during the middle school years, we will help them see the value of education. Their older peers can attract them to challenging coursework and careers."

While middle or junior high school may seem too early to talk about careers and lifelong goals, it's actually the right time to explore this topic with your adolescent. You know how your middle schooler is always trying new band instruments, new sports, new clothes, new music, and new ways of shaping his or her identity? Goals for the future vary hour by hour. One day they want to be a rock star; the next, a rocket scientist.

Well, what does a rocket scientist actually do? Your child can find out by accessing a college and career planning tool for families of children in middle and high school--the Ohio Career and Information System and the Individual Academic and Career Plan. This tool allows children to develop a personalized portfolio and expand upon their interests. It helps them explore career options and plan which courses to take as they start high school. Here, you can:

Read real-world interviews given by someone in a career; Find out what careers are in demand nationally and in Ohio; Research the most up-to-date career information available; Explore how to prepare for a chosen career; Learn about the different options for post-secondary education; Start to research colleges, universities and scholarship opportunities.

Go to www.ocis.org, or call (614) 644-6771 to find out if your school, associate career center, library or another community organization is a member. You and your child can access this online tool and a newly developed brochure to explore possibilities.

Career tool on ODE Web site

The career tool is part of a new section on our Just for Families page on the ODE website that helps parents talk with their children about possible careers. College and Career Planning Tips for Families can be found at www.ode.state.oh.us by typing keywords: career and college planning. Here's some practical advice:

Start early. Talk with your child's guidance counselor. Talk with your child's teachers. Encourage your child's interests. Get involved in your child's learning.

This new Web page shows you how to support academic and career interest development and expansion, helps you determine activities and timelines for college and career planning and exploration, and gives practical advice on what to talk about with your child's guidance counselor in junior and high school.

When it gets down to understanding the multiple paths your adolescent might want to take, the site explains college and post-secondary education options, college prep and early college programs for high school students, as well as financial aid information for families.

Internships, volunteering, shadowing

An experience that's emerging earlier in a student's education is actual exposure to real-life jobs and careers. Talk with a guidance counselor about how your child can get involved in activities outside of the school that expose them to potential careers. Whether it's internships, job shadowing, volunteering or mentoring, your adolescent can test a career and have fun, all at the same time. Here are some of the opportunities you might want to pursue:

Internships give your child real-world career experience. Job shadowing will show your adolescent what a job entails and help him or her see if that type of work is a good fit. Volunteering is another great way for your child to explore the workplace. Mentoring can help your child achieve academic success and explore goals and plans for the future.

The adolescent years are the right time to talk about the endless opportunities for your children--a time when they can dream about and explore who they want to become.

Susan Tave Zelman is superintendent of public instruction at the Ohio Department of Education, which oversees K-12 education in the state.