Be Who You Really Want to Be In The World of Work

Ronnie and Yamilett2

Ronnie on his last day at Nazareth Child Care Center

I recently read an article titled “What Young Men of Color Can Teach Us About the Achievement Gap” on NPR. The author interviewed Harvard education researcher Ron Ferguson on his latest report commissioned by the Urban Institute. Ferguson’s report centers on strategizing better educational outcomes for boys and young men of color.

Ferguson talks about the school environment as a “sociological predicament” for young men of color. They may enter school already several years behind grade level, and in school encounter challenging behaviors from peers; their racial and gender identities are shaped in part by these experiences. What results is that these young men may succumb to stereotype threat[1], where they subscribe to behaviors and attitudes that do not necessarily fit with their identity, but seem to be a requirement to fit in.

Ferguson’s insights caught my attention. I started thinking: how can Apprentice Learning collaborate with educators in our partner schools to combat this “sociological predicament”? And what strategies can we use so that our students do not feel “othered” in the world of work?

Our hope for Apprentice Learning is that all of our students, including young men of color, have an opportunity to reinvent themselves at their apprenticeship if they want to. We strive to match students with site partners based on their interests and abilities, so that they may “be who they really want to be” and not feel constrained by their position in the social structure.

Nazareth Child Care in Jamaica Plain has been a devoted site partner to Apprentice Learning. As one might expect, the majority of the students we send are female. This year we had two male students of color participate in the apprenticeship at Nazareth. What we witnessed in this new environment is that these young men were tender and nurturing; they broke from their school personas to show another side of themselves.

Students who struggle in school academically or behaviorally can find success at their apprenticeship. And they may encounter a space in which they can see themselves differently. Our goal is for students to begin to think about and plan for their future. This exploration begins with an understanding of who they are, perhaps outside of this sociological predicament, and where they want to go.

As Ferguson says, we have to be aware that there is a complex web of conditions that has gotten us where we are. We are by no means presenting Apprentice Learning as a silver bullet, nor are we trying to bash public education. Our hope is that through open dialogue and collaboration we can provide a better education of life to all of our students.

[1] Steele, C. (1997). A threat in the air: how stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52(6), pp. 613–629.


The Opportunity Gap Begins Early

The term “opportunity gap” refers to the ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations, or other factors contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students[1].


In September 2015, the New York Times published a piece titled, “Education Gap Between Rich and Poor is Growing Wider”, in which the author, Eduardo Porter, explains how improvement in educational outcomes must be taken with a grain of salt.  Educational outcomes for African-American children improved in the decades followingdesegregation, yet these gains have been undermined by another gap, one between rich and poor, which has opened wider than ever.

In the United States, race is tied to class. During 2007-2011, 25 percent of Black or African American people experienced poverty, in contrast with the national rate of 14 percent, and 11 percent of white people[2]. In other words, the same population of students continue to experience unequal outcomes, despite the various labels used to describe this inequality.

Low socioeconomic status means that children experience a myriad of disadvantages that go far beyond education. Beginning in kindergarten they are already more than a year behind,  are less likely to matriculate to college, and are less likely to afford enrichment opportunities beyond school. They are more likely to have been born to a teenage mother and live with one parent only: they suffer from higher obesity rates, and have more social and emotional problems. Over time, these disadvantages perpetuate a cycle of poverty and disadvantage. One statistic that Porter does not mention is that African American men who drop out of high school face a nearly 70 percent cumulative risk of imprisonment[3].

We know that the opportunity gap impacts Apprentice Learning students. Across the three schools with which we currently work, 71 percent of students are low income. Apprenticeships inspire career dreams, expose students to professional, caring adults who are not their family or teachers, and provide access to professional settings. As a result, our students gain self-confidence and prepare for the future.

In the early 19th century, famed education reformer (and Massachusetts native) Horace Mann fought hard for education to be the great equalizer. Disparities indicate that education alone will not close the opportunity gap. Apprentice Learning represents one comprehensive strategy to help Boston students succeed.

The link to the full New York Times article can be found here.