Host an Apprentice: 5 Tips for Success

Mentors and owners of Adi’s Bike World, Adi and Val, teaching Joxcel how to use tools.

As schools get underway, Apprentice Learning is preparing 50 students for apprenticeships throughout Boston in a wide variety of businesses. These worksite partners make time each week to create a hands-on learning experience that helps students understand a particular workplace and practice the professional skills Apprentice Learning staff introduce in our six preparatory classes. Our experienced worksite partners have learned the right menu of tasks. Here is what we’ve learned from our partners:

1. Plan age-appropriate tasks including a mix of work including tasks that require higher level thinking skills.
Nearly all simple tasks are things students enjoy doing: assembling packets, doing inventory, updating a database or straightening shelves. These tasks build confidence and independence. Activities such as customer service and managing money are more challenging although apprentices report that they love doing this work. The trick is to vary tasks enough so the apprentice has an opportunity to learn more about the business by talking with you, customers, colleagues or by seeing firsthand exactly how things work.

2. Don’t expect the apprentice to take the lead.

One of the primary benefits of an apprenticeship for students is learning how to engage with adults who are not their teachers or family members. These types of social interactions are extremely rare for most students and initially, can be complex and stressful. Help ease a student’s discomfort and ask lots of how or what questions. What might be a first step you would take to tackle this task? What do you think should happen next? How do you understand the task I presented to you? How do you think our business makes money?

3. Do know that students are enjoying their experience—even if they don’t tell you!
Universally, the apprenticeship is a weekly highlight for students. Apprentices are much more nervous and anxious then they will let on, or may be learning how their body language can be perceived. Don’t worry. It’s normal! Once in a while, an apprenticeship isn’t a good fit. If that is the case, we will be in touch with you immediately to discuss changes, even to place the student in another setting better suited to his/her skills and interests. We all share the same goal that a young person’s first work experience is positive.

4. Use the experts.

When Apprentice Learning staff stops by to check in—we are not just checking on the apprentice. This is an opportunity for you to share questions, concerns or ideas about working with a young person. Use us as a sounding board. We love to talk about young people at work.

5. Have fun. It’s the Wonder Years.
Eighth graders love Apprentice Learning because they want to spend time with you. Young people at this age are in the greatest growth period in the human life cycle. The ages of 13-15 are called the Wonder Years for this reason. Apprentices are curious and eager to exercise independence and demonstrate their competence. They have intellectual capabilities that are often untapped in traditional school settings. Our oldest apprentices can vividly recall their workplace experience from their eighth grade years. The experience you create matters more than you know.

Alumnus Aimed for Success: Shantel Mercedes

Shantel is an alumnus from Apprentice Learning’s first year of the program at the Mission Hill School in 2013. Four years later, Shantel is entering her senior year at Fenway High School. Through our First Jobs component, Shantel applied, interviewed and was accepted to Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Summer Science Academy during the spring of her eighth grade year. Summer Science Academy, as the name indicates, is a program that exposes students to health careers and. Shantel is now focused on a medical career in college.

We are so proud to share a recent feature about Shantel in Brigham and Women’s 2015 Annual Report. Read Shantel’s story here:
Shantel Mercedes

Summer Science Academy: Eight Apprentices Accepted!

Apprentices examine blood samples at the New England Baptist Hospital.

Apprentices examine blood samples at the New England Baptist Hospital.

Each year, apprentices interested in science and health careers can “try out” these careers with our work site partners including New England Baptist Hospital. But our end goal is to help students find engaging summer internships and experiences to further their skills and interests. For the past four months, we have been helping apprentices apply to a variety of programs.

One program, Summer Science Academy, is especially successful for our apprentices. We have 18 alums currently working as paid interns in this multiyear pathway program. But it all starts with Summer Science Academy. The program is geared for rising ninth graders and is the brainchild of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Center for Community Health and Health Equity. It is a rigorous and competitive application process that includes a written essay, report card submission, and an interview. This year eight apprentices were accepted to the program.

Here’s a description of this year’s program from the Center for Community Health and Health Equity newsletter:

Summer Science Academy 2016 Theme: Stress Reduction

Our Summer Science Academy (SSA) program is about to begin. SSA is an intensive science instructed program that offers science and health related classes, workshops, field trips, and the opportunity to work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital over the summer vacation to rising high school freshmen. The program aims to create exposure to the field of health and science related higher education and careers.

Each year the six week program follows a theme that guides the structure of the lessons. This year, the theme is stress reduction. The program will focus on empowering adolescent students by helping them understand stress in neurological, physiological, and biological aspects. The common belief that continual elevated stress levels affects adolescent behavior serves as major factor for the program to help students learn to combat stress effectively. Most of the students who participate in the program reside within the priority neighborhoods of Boston. It is understood that people who live in low-income neighborhoods experience higher levels of stress than their peers who do not.

Enhancing the youth’s understanding of stress, where it originates, and how to deal with it will contribute to the overall greater health and success of the students. With assistance from the Benson Henry Institute, the students will have four sessions focused on stress reduction strategies and coping methods. The lessons will also cover important but less talked about factors of stress such as, test taking and its relation to stress, and dealing with stress within relationships.

Letter to our worksite partners

Yanisa designing a window display The Thrift Shop of Boston.

Yanisa designing a window display The Thrift Shop of Boston.

Thanks for your participation in the spring apprenticeships. Our students benefit tremendously from the time you spend mentoring and teaching them. Many of our alums return with vivid recollections of their experience so we know it has an impact on a young person’s outlook on the world. We appreciate you!

Partners hosting this spring’s 21 apprentices are:

Ace Hardware in Roslindale
Birth Street Home & Garden
Boing Toy Shop
Caramelo (Thursday)
Fresh Hair (Thursday)
Horizons for Homeless Children
Game Engagement Lab at Emerson CollegePet Cabaret
Microsoft Store (7)
Nazareth Childcare Center
Polka Dog Bakery
Rédgine’s Botanical Spirits
The Thrift Hop of Boston
Station8 Hair Salon

Week one is always the Week of Nerves for the apprentices. For most, it is the first time for independent interactions with adults who are neither families nor teachers. Our preparation emphasizes the importance of introducing oneself with a great smile, handshake and a clearly spoken name. On your part, if you can provide a clear overview of your business, a spot for backpacks and put them right to work! Please remind the apprentices to take off their coats.

Our staff will make brief workplace visits over the next six weeks. These check-ins are an opportunity for you to share any questions or observations with us and for us to convey any questions that have come up via the apprentice. Our aim is to make the most of both your and the students’ time.

Also, we’d like to arrange some time to interview you about your experience as a site partner. As our program grows to serving over 100 students in schools in Brighton and Jamaica Plain, you can help us attract new business partners. Please let us know if you would be willing to speak about your worksite partner experience.

What is a Pot of Gold, Exactly?

I wanted to share a recent blog post by my dear friend and mentor Deborah Meier. Deborah offers an enthusiastic review of a book by Susan Engel, “The End of the Rainbow.” In it. Ms. Engel asks, “What if we made the implicit goal of education happiness rather than monetary attainment?” It’s a fascinating viewpoint that gives all of us on the right and the left, pause for thought. Here’s my thought…

Apprentice Learning is not teaching career education just to help kids make money. We do want Apprentices to have options other than a low wage, low skill job. The skills we teach help young people navigate a complex adult world–one that inevitably includes working–and feel confident in many workplace cultures. These professional skills such as communication, self-advocacy, cultural sensitivity, etc. are valuable in many settings, including those outside of work. Academic skills alone are not adequate.

Our students are motivated to practice and learn because they are eager to work. They want to join the adult world. Most so they can make money. That’s their starting point.


Kids believe happiness and money are related. What they don’t fully understand is the strange ways they are. Beyond the lifelong pursuit of these skills, we hope our participants grow to understand that attaining happiness is more than just making money.

Taking Things Seriously? Please Do!

The popular press has reams of articles about how not to take things too seriously. In our business working with middle school students, sometimes, we have the opposite problem.

This is the midpoint of the school year—and the time when students edge up to the point of no return. Their toes are on the precipice of failing 8th grade. Warning notices go home this week that say ‘If the student cannot improve, completion of summer school will be required before the student may advance to high school. Staying back in 8th grade. That’s not good.

At home and at school, conversations with the student might go something like this, ”Why aren’t you taking this seriously?” At this point, not taking school—and their academic future—seriously what can we do to disrupt this downward spiral? All too often, the adults are puzzled and frustrated by this disengagement.

Cassidy gives Bryan a lesson on the register

Cassidy gives Bryan a lesson on the register

What does it take to create a seriousness of purpose for a student who is off track? What would spark their engagement? Many students have stellar qualities: they are organized, have strong interpersonal skills, many are punctual and reliable. But without the engagement engine these attributes are sleepers.

For a student relegated to spend five weeks from 8 am to 2 pm in a summer school classroom, what could make the experience worthwhile and valuable?
We see Apprentices who are engaged in their preparation for work and have a very high degree of seriousness. What’s the secret sauce?

Kurt Hahn, founder of the Outward Bound movement once said,
” …There are three ways of trying to win the young. There is persuasion. There is compulsion and there is attraction. You can preach at them; that is a hook without a worm. You can say, “you must volunteer.” That is the devil. And you can tell them, “you are needed” that hardly ever fails.”

Apprenticeships create a place in the world for students to feel needed. They are an invitation to work alongside and join an effort to be of service. Here’s what the Apprentices have to say,

“When my boss taught me how to check people out, I was so excited. I had really wanted to do it. It taught me how to operate a cash register and give people the correct amount of change. It was fun and helped me use my math skills in the ‘Real World’.” – Kaya, Apprentice at Boing! Toy Shop

This prepares us (8th graders) for high school life, not just high school but life itself. I came in here scared is worried—would anyone like me? Is everything gonna go by fast? Slow? It’s worth it because you have a good time and learn skills. I don’t think there was a single dull moment. We have a good time and I learned lots of useful skills. —Yanisa, Apprentice at Thrift Shop of Boston.

As educators, our charge is to create authentic learning experiences that provide a compelling reason for students to take their learning seriously. It’s high stakes learning with clear purpose: to be needed. Ideally, students understand that learning math can mean they will be useful in the world.

A Nation with Shared Public Purpose

The title of this blog is one of my favorite phrases from Eric Schwarz’ s new book, “The Opportunity Equation.” Eric writes his story of creating Citizen Schools more than 20 years ago. Armed with an idea and willing teachers and volunteers, he created a wonderful program that invites ordinary citizens to volunteer their time and share their expertise with youngsters.

The book tells an engaging story. And it’s much more: it’s a call to all citizens to share the task of educating America’s children, particularly those who have few extra opportunities provided by their families. Service to others builds a shared public purpose. This is the purpose of civic education.

Civic education isn’t just about the three branches of government; it’s an understanding of the common set of beliefs that bind us together as a country. At the heart of democracy, there is a sense of belonging to something larger than us. Otherwise there would be anarchy. Education is at the heart of how we convey these beliefs.

At the heart of education are schools. At the heart of schools are communities of children, families and adult professionals who care about the welfare of the collective, not only the individual. Sometimes the betterment of the whole come at the expense of the individual. Sometime a painful lesson and one that is essential for success. At their best, communities create a powerful personal feeling of belonging because the welfare of the whole is at the center of the conversation. Just what the founding fathers had in mind: a shared sense of purpose.

Classroom teaching is a profession. Some would say an avocation or a calling. Civic education is both an opportunity and a responsibility. How we each contribute to strengthening the republic is a private matter but it is of the greatest public importance.

“I like the classes and all but…”

Chris Moncrief is Apprentice Learning’s Program Director. You can read his bio on our Staff page. This is his first ‘official’ post. Welcome Chris!

It has been a great start to the year here at Apprentice Learning. After our second class, I asked the students for some feedback, “What do you think of classes so far?” One of the students said as politely as she could, “I like the classes and all but I thought we would be doing more, like, hands-on stuff.” Wanting to get right into some of that “hands-on work” is not a surprising request given what we might remember about being in the 8th grade. But for this student, hands-on meant something more. It just so happened that in this particular class students would be assessing themselves as having one of three primary learning styles: Tactile, Visual, and Auditory. The request for more hands-on activity was no surprise when we learned the student was a Tactile Learner. Although this student’s discovery was made after her request, it is my hope that this new self-knowledge will go a long way toward supporting her learning in all opportunities.

It was so wonderful to see the class light up with expression as all of their seemingly impulsive classroom behaviors started to make sense. They were gaining insight into their individual needs and then learning how to advocate for them. Students are using their learning styles as a way to communicate to their future employers how they can be most successful at work as well as a way of asking for the appropriate help with their school work. Tactile Learners know that they need to just try something, successfully or not, in order to understand it. Visual Learners know they need to ask for someone to show them and walk them through something in order to understand. Auditory Learners know they need just one clear set of directions to be able to understand. So whether Apprentices are weighing food at a pet shop, or learning about personal finances in an office, they are equipped to make these experiences work best for them. We have empowered them to take ownership of their education and make connections between the classroom and the outside world that otherwise may not have happened.

I can’t blame that student for asking for more hands-on experiences. In fact, I am excited by it. It means Apprentices are ready to start engaging full-on with the work they are going to be doing. Apprentice Learning is changing and furthering the educational experience of these students. This group of Apprentices is gearing up the next and final stage of their apprenticeship preparation. If this is how the rest of our classes will go, I look forward to all of the other amazing ways they are going to grow the fall.

I Got the Job!

Franchesca called full of excitement to share this news. It’s her first job and one that she worked to obtain by attending informational meetings, two interviews, and by following up weekly to make sure her application was on track.

The skills involved in each of these aspects of obtaining a job are an essential part of the Apprentice Learning experience. The world of work is more than showing up and shaking hands. It’s learning how to advocate for oneself and how to be persistent in the face of obstacles.

Franchesca is on her way to the Hyde Square Task Force as part of the youth leadership program, a competitive summer leadership program that will pay her a weekly salary. Participation extends into the academic school year and includes lots of related job opportunities throughout high school.

We are proud of Francescha and all of our Apprentices.

8th Grade Graduation

8th Grade Graduation

This year 88% will spend the summer before 9th grade engaged in some type of program or meaningful enrichment activity. This includes jobs, medical programs, academic programs, science and recreational camps. Experiences that will stem summer learning loss and offer meaningful relationships with adults and peers. These experiences are what help close the Opportunity Gap.

Don’t Lollygag

At Apprentice Learning, our mission states that we, “give apprentice students authentic opportunities to learn good habits of work, gain a better understanding of what it takes to succeed, and learn how to measure success in one’s chosen field.”

Apprentices have completed Spring apprenticeships, giving me pause to think about these authentic moments. When did I see them? When did Apprentices notice them? Are they carefully planned, haphazard, or do they occur as an integral part of an apprenticeship?

Liam working at Boing! Toy Shop.

Liam working at Boing! Toy Shop.

So we interviewed students. Here’s what one Apprentice picked up during her workplace experience, “Make sure you are good at the job, don’t lollygag, don’t sit in the corner, don’t use your phone when you are not supposed to, make sure you have your eyes open and you are doing the job right. If you mess up, apologize, and hopefully they will understand. Don’t be rude to your boss, that’s the main person who will give you a recommendation.”

Observation is such an important part of the learning process. We don’t want to discount what young people learn from what happens around them. It’s one of the most important reasons for having Apprentices travel to a workplace. Placing Apprentices in work environments where they observe adults who don’t “lollygag” helps reinforce these basic lessons that begin at at home and are reinforced at school, in our program, and in the workplace.