Goals and Dreams: It’s All About Action

Taylor Norman, Apprentice Learning Program Coordinator at the Boston Teachers Union School was invited to give a parting speech to the eighth grade class. We were inspired and wanted to share her words.

As you launch into high school, you will have a chance to choose your friends, choose your interests, and choose what path you will take. Although these choices aren’t permanent, make sure you’re building a firm and steady foundation. You have the option to start over and be who you want to be, without questions, or maybes. So use that opportunity and take action. Don’t wait for the approval of your peers, because they’re figuring it out, just as you are. Make your plan and ask for help. Tell them about your plan of action, and that you can’t do it alone.

I’ve helped many of you explore your career interests and earn an apprenticeships and summer jobs through Apprentice Learning. As that process unfolded, I got to learn more about each of you, and what makes you so unique. Like the fact that the majority of you like white bread because wheat bread is too crumbly. Some students like to blurt out their answers, while others refused to answer when called upon. How many of you like to help adults but don’t like being told what to do by adults. About ½ of you like an even layer of Mayonnaise on both slices of the bread while others like a big glob of Mayo on ONE side…

But what made you even more similar, was the fact that each of you had goals and dreams to be someone different, and to be a better version of your 6th grade self, or your 7th grade self. And even for the few students that I’ve met for the first time this year, better versions of your 8th grade selves.

Each year you made improvements, through action. And I’ve watched. We’ve watched.
I remember many of you saying, “Ms. T, I’m going to be in your class next year because I want a summer job. Just wait!” So I waited. We’ve waited. Not for the opportunity to get you employed for the summer, but for the lifetime of opportunities that await you…when you realize that you don’t need us as much as you did before.

Getting up for school every day, completing those assignments, making a pact to stay after school with your friends so you can all receive tutoring, supporting the one person in your crew who may have needed to attend. That demonstrates empathy, teamwork, proper planning, care, and commitment. You’ve stuck together, refusing to leave your classmates or friends behind. But keep in mind, it’s all about action.

Taylor (L) and Caleb (R) during a Workplace Exploration at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

Meet Bill Russell: the Statue

Thanks, Aaron Horne, Sienna DeSantis and Tim Smith, Trinity Financial staff professionals who are introducing the field of commercial real estate development to our apprentices. Their education begins with sharpening their observation skills by getting to know their own city.

Fabio, Styvenson, Armani and Solomon navigated their way through the Batterymarch District, visited the Greenway, saw seals at the New England Aquarium, walked through Fanueil Hall, and visited City Hall for the first time.

And they know Bill Russell, Boston’s basketball great but have never known about his statue on City Hall Plaza. Thanks Trinity, for introducing Bill Russell, the statue.

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.

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].


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-

[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?


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.

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