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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
An April article in The Atlantic magazine (“Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework,” Dana Goldstein) shares research on what types of parental involvement have an impact on academic achievement. Aside from reading aloud (good!) one practice stood out as particularly relevant: adult role models, especially those who have attended college and/or who are doing interesting professional work. These adults and the interactions they have with young people matter for their academic achievement.
“Robinson and Harris posit that greater financial and educational resources allow some parents to embed their children in neighborhoods and social settings in which they meet many college-educated adults with interesting careers. Upper-middle-class kids aren’t just told a good education will help them succeed in life. They are surrounded by family and friends who work as doctors, lawyers, and engineers and who reminisce about their college years around the dinner table.”
These conversations are at the heart of how children develop career aspirations at an early age. Having parents who are lawyers, technologists, or engineers means that children of these adults take college and professional success for granted: it’s normal.
And for those who have not attended college? It’s a different type of dinner table conversation. What are these young people taking for granted?
Apprenticeships can fill the gap. At Apprentice Learning, we create intentional relationships between a middle school student and an adult. Over an apprenticeship in the workplace, adults help a young person imagine themselves in their shoes. It’s powerful and something that is hard to teach in the classroom–or at home.
How do we teach children to do? I was reminded of this lovely article by Addison Del Mastro. What are the skills that make us competent and self-sufficient? Have they changed with technology? Are we educating young people with this in mind?
Know-how is an old-fashioned sort of word. I associate it with my grandfather tinkering under the hood or with the creation story of the industrial United States. Know-how is making a come back! Certainly this is true in the world of computers. The skills for communication are accessible to larger numbers but require more technological knowledge of 2.1 navigation, design, photo imaging, multi-media usage and messaging. We all know those whom we turn to who are better skilled than others! This is also true in the kitchen and in growing food. Lots of people are taking the time to learn the skills required to be self-sufficient and to take pride in their work. Making cheese, pastry production and other highly specialized arts are more accessible to people who also may have a day job but who care about a doing work that is meaningful. Urban farming is another wonderful example of learning skills that have are well-regarding. And sharing know-how with others is happening more and more!
A new report from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education indicates that the high school dropout rate is decreasing across the state, and especially in urban areas. Last year, 5.9 percent of students quit school, representing 969 students out of 16,293, according to state data. This is down from 9.9% in 2005-2006.
That’s a big jump! Why?
The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) played a significant role in helping young people stay in school with its innovative program, The Re-engagement Center. Another important element included connecting students to jobs and internships. These authentic learning experiences give credence to the value of a high school diploma and to the importance of a college education. Students, now employees, quickly learn the value of academic knowledge and good work habits that can be applied to the workplace.
Ninth graders have the lowest grade point average, the most missed classes, the majority of failing grades, and more misbehavior referrals than any other high school grade level. The 9th grade also has the highest enrollment rate in high schools, mainly due to the fact that approximately 22% of students repeat 9th-grade classes. This number can be even higher in large urban high schools.(McCallumore, Kyle Megan; Sparapani, Ervin F., October 2010, Educational Digest)
Exposure to work at a young age is thought to contribute to the focus and direction young people need to make decisions about their future life pathways. Working at an early age generates a set of additional and longer lasting benefits that are manifest in improved lifetime employment and earnings outcomes as well as improved educational attainment outcomes. (Signaling Success: Boosting Teen Employment Prospects, Commonwealth Corporation 2013)
Ninth grade as a critical year. More students fail ninth grade than any other grade in high school. While nationally, nearly one third of all high school students drop out before completing high school, 75% of students who fail one course in ninth grade will drop out of school before graduating.
There is an urgent need to prepare young people before high school and equipping students with a variety of opportunities to motivate them to succeed such as a part-time job, career goals and pathways, and caring adults who can advise and support them outside of school.
E.O Wilson, the venerable scientist, has written a book aimed at young scientists to encourage them to delve deeply into the ever-changing mysteries of our civilization. Every citizen, every leader needs some understanding of scientific concepts, especially as our world grows more complex. How do we make science accessible? These questions inspire us to reach out to scientific organizations across the city for apprenticeships in their area of expertise.
I came across an article by Evan Burfield in the Huffington Post. It was written a year ago and it still resonates, especially as Apprentice Learning begins Year 2. This week I am reaching out to businesses and organizations to identify placements for Apprentices from two Boston Public Schools, the Mission Hill School and the Boston Teachers Union School.
In securing Apprentice placements, it has been the entrepreneurs who have been the most open to mentoring young adolescents and teaching them about the world of work. Many want to support the young people in the educational pathway. See our Partners Page for a full listing.
Burfield’s article explains another aspect of those willing to invest precious time with 8th graders. It is the future: as Byfield states, “Startups need people who are constantly figuring things out on their own, learning from their peers, and reaching out to mentors for guidance rather than rote instruction. It’s not about what they know, it’s how they learn, think, and communicate.” These are precisely the skills Apprentices practice beforehand and on the job. The newest jobs require flexible thinking and broader skill sets. And many of these skills are best learned and practiced outside of the classroom.
This skill set must be good for business. Entrepreneurs who launched within the last five years are leading the way, part of the fast growing job sector in our new economy. These folks are the job creators. And they are wisely investing in the next generation of people who can get things done.