After High School: The Pursuit of Happiness

  • Higher Education
  • High School
  • Middle School
Stephanie Codorniz

College and Career Readiness in 1999

Growing up, I loved school. I was a morning person even back then; I woke up early, so excited for the day to start and wondering what new things were in store for me. Before I could read sight words, I found my mother’s American Sign Language book from college and taught myself signs. I asked my teachers for extra homework, and my little brother spent hours playing school with me. He was the student and I was the teacher, of course. Anything and everything about learning filled my little soul with joy. 

Because I had success in school, my family expected me to go to college.  While my parents would ask my friends if they were attending college, they asked me, "Steph, where are you going to college?" There was never a question of if I was going; it was understood that I would attend a four-year university.

My dad dropped out of college and struggled to find a job that provided good benefits and a decent wage to pay the bills. My mom graduated university as an audiologist the year the state of Ohio changed certifications to require a Masters Degree to practice. Having three kids did not allow enough time or money to go back to school so she spent the next 25 years as a waitress. While my dad is a talented salesman and public speaker, and my mom is the best waitress you will ever have in your life, their message to me was loud and clear. I was going to college to graduate with a degree to get a good job and not have to struggle financially like they did.

While I saw and felt my parents’ struggle, there were other paths I truly wanted to explore. I remember my high school having a career day where different community members came to talk to us about their jobs. After attending a session with a representative from a culinary arts school, I went home very excited, telling my mother that I wanted to become a chef. I showed her the brochure and chatted non-stop about the idea of mastering souffles, creating fancy pastries, and being the best chef to ever live in rural Ohio. 

Instead of encouraging me in this new found passion, my mother, who worked in food service her whole life, gave me a list of cons in this career choice: working holidays and mandatory overtime, hot kitchens, and restaurants that go out of business would leave me without a job. Basically, she said that there was no way I was going to culinary school and to pick a four-year university.

So that was that. No culinary school for me. 


As a teen, I wanted to pursue a career in culinary arts. Executive Chef Eric Henninger at 35 Brix in Green, Ohio creates delicious, beautiful food like this halibut with bourbon bacon jam, five cheese creamed spinach, and herb fried smashed potatoes. Amazing, right?

College and Career Readiness Today

Everything worked out for me because through my undergraduate work, I discovered my talent and passion for working with people with disabilities. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing young people each day. I help them problem solve, identify their feelings, model how to self-advocate, point out their strengths, and celebrate with them when they show progress.

However, sometimes I wonder what my life would be like had I been encouraged and guided through my interest in the culinary arts.  Due to my experience of being pushed to go to college, I make a conscience effort to support students in their passions, whatever that may be. While I make sure my students know they can do anything in life they want to, I feel it’s most important to not push them down one specific path.

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) is a nonprofit organization that helps students learn strategies to have a successful school experience that prepares them for career, college, and life. I had the privilege of visiting a local middle school that adopted AVID schoolwide; I heard students speak about their appreciation for their AVID class, how prior to AVID, they never imagined themselves attending college. Now, they research colleges they want to attend and careers they want to pursue. 

While college is one path, I think that if students have a passion to explore other fields that have different education requirements, we need to support them in this quest. School districts all over Washington state provide technical skills centers and other means for students to receive job training as part of a public education. Examples of these programs include Construction, Automotive, 3D Animation and Gaming, Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Fashion Design, and the list goes on and on. Because of these opportunities, Ingrid is now a hairstylist who specializes in curly hair, and people drive to her salon from all over Washington. Lisa started a company that coaches young adults with disabilities. Bob learned how to build tables, beds, and cabinets through the carpentry program, and built the house he now lives in. All of these former students became successful because they followed their passion.

As an educator, my goal is that all students become independent, happy adults. If you want to go to college, you can. If you want to spend your junior and senior years in high school learning how to be a chef, you can. Both paths are important. 

How do you support your students in following their passions? 



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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.

Stephanie Codorniz Board

National Board Certified Teacher, Special Education Teacher Leader, K-8th Grade, West Hills STEM Academy, Bremerton, WA