Host an Apprentice: Five Steps for a Business Site Partner

As schools get underway, Apprentice Learning is preparing 50 students for apprenticeships throughout Boston in a wide variety of businesses. At the same time, we have to prepare our 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, 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 is for students to learn 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 can be complex and stressful.

At this age, nearly all young people are not deeply self-reflective. Help ease a student’s discomfort by asking lots of how or what questions. What do you think should happen next? How can we get these items to fit on the shelf? How do you think this business makes money? What might be a first step you would take to tackle this task?

3. Do know that the student is enjoying their experience—even if they don’t tell you!
In nearly all cases, 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 or 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!

5. Have fun. It’s the Wonder Years.
Eighth graders love Apprentice Learning. 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
SSA

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.


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.

 


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.


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].


1]
http://edglossary.org/opportunity-gap/.

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.

[2] https://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-
7.pdf.

[3] http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2014/05/10-crime-facts.


Teach to the demands of real life

Jonalis working at Kitchen Central.

Jonalis working at Kitchen Central.

Front and center in our curriculum and practice is the idea of teaching ‘content and skills related to the demands of real life,’ a phrase from Donald Kagan. We use the experience of the workplace to bring this into clear focus and create opportunities to practice these skills:

  • Use self-presentation skills and non-verbal messages like eye contact, listening clues, posture, clothing to communicate with adults.
  • Understand one’s skills, interests, strengths and learning style to process information and advocate effectively.
  • Observe and understand a workplace culture’s expectations for success.

Apprentice Learning starts with explicit teaching and modeling in the classroom. Then students practice by videoing each other and offering critiques. Lastly, the workplace becomes the real world test where students have ample opportunities to practice in conscious and unconscious ways. To build learning, reflection is important. Watch one apprentice’s video here


4 Simple Signs: I am Listening.

Ready for work: are you listening?

listening

Our eighth graders are truly excited to go to their first workplace but it may not always be immediately evident. Adolescent brains process information in wholly different ways than adults. Teachers know this but workplace supervisors may not. We teach our students a simple, effective strategy for interactions in the workplace to help them gain confidence speaking with adults they do not know.

Jeanny and Carylina listening carefully to Ron's directions on the set at WGBH.

Ron coaching Jeanny and Carylina on the set at WGBH. 

Apprentices, show adults you are listening.

You are in school all day. Listening. It is crucial to learning. Throughout the day in the classroom, as you listen to the teacher, you look out the window, turn around in your seat or even close your eyes.

Still listening? Likely you are. Except when you switch to the workplace where communication is usually among adults, you want to be sure to give off a few signals. At work, unlike at school, communication typically occurs among one to four people. Showing them you are listening is especially important.

In a professional setting, when an adult gives you instructions, he or she will look for signals from you that you are listening and that you understand what is being said. That’s what adults expect of each other. Here’s how to Here are a few tips you can use:

Four simple signals.

  1. Eye contact. Look at the person speaking.
  2. Turn your body toward the person speaking. Imagine you are a putting a spotlight on them.
  3. Nod your head. It means you are taking it all in. It could also mean you agree with what’s being said.
  4. Ask questions! It means you get it. It’s the best way to make the conversation more than a one-way presentation. It shows you are listening and learning.

Try it.

Use these signals every 10-20 seconds with adult professionals. Take turns using each one. It will help the adults understand you better. And it helps you learn, too.


Skills That Matter

It goes without saying that the last few years have seen some of the greatest economic growth since the 2008 downturn. Just last week, it was announced that close to 295,000 new jobs were created in the month of February. But with the growing economy has come a growing problem.

New attention is now being paid to what has been coined the skills gap in our country. The skills gap is growing disconnect between the skills that employers deem important to the workplace and the skills that new workers bring with them.

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A January 2015 article in the Washington Post entitled, “Why so many college students are failing to gain job skills before graduation” pointed out that employers find recent college graduates are “severely lacking in some basic skills, particularly problem solving, decision making, and the ability to prioritize tasks.” Research done into the skills gap shows that while many college students believe they are prepared with these skills, their employers disagree.

We’ve reached a point where many of the newly created jobs are going unfilled. Even with years of technical training and specialized education, workers are lacking some of the most foundational skills required to be successful in the workplace.

Here in Jamaica Plain we are taking the skills gap head on. Skills are at the core of what we do at Apprentice Learning. Last week I observed our Apprentices at the Wyss Institute at Harvard University learn more about nano-materials and DNA then most of the people in my college graduating class, and that was only the orientation. An apprenticeship at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is a parallel work experience, meaning that the apprenticeship is designed to mimic the work experience of professionals in the field. After their orientation, the Apprentices get right to designing. With just a set of bottle caps and magnetic chips, the Apprentices lived through a typical Wyss project. With far less formal education or training, the 8th graders used excellent communication skills and teamwork to accomplish their goal, the same kind of work skills that the highly trained scientists and engineers in the room use on a daily basis.

Apprentices from the BTU Pilot School and the Mission Hill School discuss genetics project.   Photo credit: The Wyss Institute at Harvard

Apprentices discuss genetics project.  Photo Credit: The Wyss Institute at Harvard University. 

This kind of skills practice is true across all of our sites. An Apprentice at First Literacy practices organization while at the Game Engagement Lab at Emerson College they practice attention to detail. Helping customers at Boing Toy Shop entails good communication; while attentiveness and kindness is essential in the care of young children at Horizons for Homeless Children.

Employers in all fields believe these kinds of skills are essential employee success. I am proud to say that our 8th grade Apprentices are getting a head start. When they are at work, the experience they gain may not be specialized training in game development or bioengineering. Instead, they practice skills most valuable to the workplace, communication, punctuality, teamwork, and reliability, skills that will matter for life.


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.

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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.