By Letta Neely, Associate Director of Programs
As everyone knows, this particular pandemic makes us reach deep in our toolbox to build new and edit the tried-and-true pathways for success. This fall, at Dearborn STEM Academy (DSA) and at Boston Teachers Union School (BTU), we were innovative with our programming and kept our young people at the center, embarking on a different type of career exploration. It makes me think of the Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”. In our case, the pandemic prevented us from sending young people out into the world of work. Hence, we brought the world of work to them!
At DSA, we implemented workplace explorations for our middle school students. Because Apprentice Learning curates programming that illuminates agency and choice whenever possible, career options included: Actor, Electrician, Flower Arranger, Sound Designer, Podcaster, Architect, Writer, or Social Justice Activist. Small groups of eighth grade students worked with each Career Mentor to create an artifact of their efforts. Some of these artifacts included: using design thinking to make a ketchup bottle that gets out the last drop; learning and using basic electrical concepts; making a podcast, writing a monolog, or practicing the art of flower arranging.
At BTU, each apprentice explored and researched a career of personal interest—including prerequisites and the proper work attire connected to their job interest. These apprentices continued to practice public speaking, making eye contact, and a different way of shaking hands in the business world. This culminated in a one day, two-hour interview experience where each eighth grader met 1-on-1 with an adult who played the part of an interviewer and who afterward gave written and oral feedback.
In both schools, on the morning of their apprenticeship, the eighth graders arrived excited, intrigued, nervous, and most importantly, ready. In our workshops, we practice being “Work Ready”, “Community Ready,” and “Courage Ready.” Our apprentices were all of this and more. The looks on their faces, the attention spans, and their posture was the evidence. They were able to speak freely, ask questions, and use their learning styles and signature strengths in the service of their own growth.
This spring we’re called to change our methodology once again because the times demand it. At this moment, due to the pandemic, our worksite partners are not able to safely come into the building. So, we’ve altered the design of our program but not the mission. We will deliver our regular six-week preparation curriculum including having each student create a resume.
AL staff will deliver mechanical engineering and marketing apprenticeship experiences to the youth ourselves. We’ll also utilize SuitUp to provide a one-day entrepreneurship experience virtually. The eighth graders will be mentored by employees of Dentsu Media and LiveRamp and will work in collaboration with middle school students in other states. These experiences are different opportunities for the youth to strut and stretch their budding growth. They will get to practice using their voices, engaging with others, exploring three careers and reaching their own personal bar of excellence.
For our ninth grader alumni, we begin our Launch+ program this week. This paid Learn-to-Earn internship meets virtually with Apprentice Learning staff twice weekly. Alums deepen their understanding of the world of work, learn to accurately update resumes created in eighth grade, and are fully supported as they apply for paid summer employment through SuccessLink.
We continue to feel fortunate in this climate. We keep doing our best work no matter what curves the pandemic brings. We keep helping young people deepen their skill sets, broaden their horizons, and expand their possibilities. We know that eventually, the outside world will open back up and we’ll be able to send youth into the world of work. We know that you’ll be right there with us, waiting with open arms to share your experience, expertise, and passions.