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Boston middle schoolers get a taste of career opportunities with short, early apprenticeships

Article: Working Nation – Published on December 16, 2021

Apprentice Learning says the program sets eighth graders up for success in high school and beyond

By Victoria Lim -December 16, 2021

It’s a well-known—and quoted—notion that “children are our future.” A Boston-based nonprofit is leaning all the way into this belief with short unpaid apprenticeships that place middle schoolers in professional settings to spark an interest in, or passion for, potential careers.

Helen Russell, founder & executive director, Apprentice Learning (Photo: Apprentice Learning)

Apprentice Learning originally started in 1999 at Mission Hill School with the idea of giving middle school students real world work experience and having working adults integrated into the regular curriculum. Helen Russell ran the program for 10 years until—in her words—“it petered out.”

But original funders of the program never wavered in their support, and recruited Russell in 2012 to renew the program independently. Apprentice Learning now has five partner schools in the Boston public school system and all eighth graders are eligible for the program.

“Eighth grade is the sweet spot. They’re at a point in their lives where they crave independence, are curious about the adult world, and they’re just about to go to high school,” Russell says. She also says ninth grade has the highest rate of failures, absenteeism, and suspension. “If we can give them a sense of success, independence, and competence in the larger world beyond school it can inoculate them against that very difficult ninth grade transition.”

How the Program Works

Seventy companies offer apprenticeships to Boston middle schoolers in multiple industries, including retail, law, beauty, nonprofit, arts, culinary, architecture, professional sports team, and biotech. Last year, 174 students participated in the program.

Students first get exposure to the program in seventh grade with a Workplace Exploration orientation. Once in eighth grade, the first six weeks are considered prep sessions: identifying their strengths, a review of professional courtesies (shaking hands, looking someone in the eye, being mindful of how you speak to an adult as opposed to your friends, arriving on early), their learning styles, workplace options, and more.

Next come the on-the-job apprenticeships, which are built into the school day. Once a week for six weeks, students leave school to go to work for two hours at their assigned workplace site. Their tasks can include stocking shelves and helping customers at a toy store; tending to the front desk of an office; confirming appointments for a salon; Students usually travel in groups of two or more. Through a co-op agreement with Northeastern University, college students tag along as a coach. Once they arrive at their workplace, students call a number to check-in with a contact at Apprentice Learning, and head home at the end of their day.

Each student’s parent or guardian must sign off on the placement because it usually requires travel on public transportation. Russell’s staff considers factors such as the mode of transportation and how far the location is from the student’s school and home when determining their apprenticeship placement. Students travel to other parts of Boston they usually don’t see or spend time in, in an effort to demystify the city skyline, understand what happens in those buildings, and build relationships.

“It creates meaning in other communities. We’re trying to de-silo communities so young people feel welcomed in all parts of the city, particularly youth of color. And for businesses to appreciate and see Boston public school students, many students of color, as assets and recognize talent and skills they bring as they enter into the employee pipeline,” Russell says. “We’re really targeting young people who may not have adult role models in professional jobs or families new to the country and may not be able to tap all resources available.”

After apprenticeship is completed, Apprentice Learning staff introduce the apprentices to the full network of program partners and they help them apply for enrichment programs, internships, and paid jobs. According to the nonprofit, more than 45% of apprentices land summer jobs.

An Experience Designed to Spark Career Interest and Expand Worlds

Rianna Soares worked in an office for her apprenticeship about 10 years ago, doing administrative work such as assembling information packets and filing. She says she learned the importance of time management through this experience. “I felt really good about it, I knew this would be a good first step for me career wise,” Soares says.

“I was excited to have my first job and going into the office for the first time I felt at home. I loved the work I was doing, and my coworkers were super friendly and helpful.”

Apprentice Learning can also give students and early sense of what they do not want to pursue as they get older. Kaylah Morilus thought her placement preparing meals at the Boys and Girls Club in Allston Brighton would be a great entry into the culinary field. Through that experience, she learned a career in cooking is not for her.

“I learned that preparing food for a large number of people is very technical. There is a certain way to cut everything and there are different ways to handle food. I learned how to cut onions without crying which was great!” Morilus says. “I do like to cook but more for myself. Also serving the food to the children was fun and it made me happy to see a smile on their face when eating the food I helped prepare. I learned that I like to be a part of something that makes a difference in someone’s day. “

She stayed connected with Apprentice Learning through high school as a City Summer Intern and then as a City Summer Peer Leader. This experience enabled her to explore other businesses in the city, build on her eighth grade experience and become somewhat of a mentor to younger students.

“I thought the experience was great because I saw Boston in a different light and the variety of jobs that were here. I learned how to build my resume and talk in an interview, meet people and learn how to network,” she says. “The coolest part was coming back and being a peer leader and helping teach other girls what I learned. This experience made Boston less of a mystery and more of a place of possibility and accessibility.”

Morilus is currently a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, with an interest in journalism and women and gender studies.

Rianna Soares (left) and Kaylah Morilus (right)

Some companies offer worksite sessions, hosting students for one day for several hours. The law firm where Madeleine Rodriguez works, Foley Hoag, has hosted Apprentice Learning students for the past four years. Students are given a tour and meet a variety of employees in a variety of jobs such as finance, technology, operations, administration, and law participate in question-and-answer sessions.

Madeleine Rodriguez (Photo: FoleyHoag)

“The coolest question I’ve seen asked is a student who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community and she said, ‘I’m gay. What is it like working in law as a gay person?’ And a person who happened to be there, who is gay, said, ‘I’m gay, and went into law. Being gay influenced me to go into law’,” Rodriguez recalls.

She says in introducing students to a career in law, they discuss legal issues the students may be able to relate to such as Boston’s infamous school busing program to desegregate public schools and modern-day concerns such as wrongful convictions, interactions with police and the criminal justice system.

“What we hope for them to get out of this is, to first and foremost, see themselves reflected in a workplace that I personally am very invested in seeing look more and more like them in the future,” Rodriguez says.

“I personally remember what it was like interviewing to work at law firm when I was in law school. Every single building I walked into I must’ve looked like I was in the Taj Mahal. I had never been in such nice offices; it was beyond my imagination in my first two years working at a law firm. There was a lot of that, ‘Do I belong here? Am I doing what I need to do to earn my position here in this very impressive space?’ I want to get to a point where that sense of ‘Do I deserve?’ goes away.”

Experience and a Sense of Contributing

Ultimately, these opportunities are the reasons why Russell says the program isn’t a job shadow. It’s structured to be actual work experience that builds a sense of familiarity, curiosity, and independence that leads to competence and confidence that extends beyond their school years.

“Apprentice Learning is one of those standout memories for kids,” she says. “To have middle school experience that you were welcomed into the adult world, contributed and were successful, it’s such a developmentally important experience. We hope that by providing them an experience in which they literally work alongside adults, in a workplace, they get the sense they’re being taken seriously.”

5 Reasons That Career Exploration Must Begin in Middle School

In a report called ‘Career Readiness for All’, questions about the relationship between American education and work were raised. The report shows that most students leave high school without a clear idea about their future, and eventually struggle to find meaningful work. Even those who pursue a college degree often face a skills gap with what employers in their fields want to hire.

The study highlights the need to prioritize career planning as early as middle school, so students can better align their education with their careers. A major step of career planning is career exploration with Apprentice Learning, a non-profit that supports career exploration for Boston Public school middle school students. Apprentice Learning staffs guide students through the process of researching, evaluating, and learning about work opportunities. By understanding their job options, Apprentice Learning helps middle school students imagine themselves in jobs that suit them and prepare ahead. Here are five reasons why career exploration must begin in middle school:

Improves their knowledge of career options

We usually ask young children what they want to be when they grow up. Common answers include doctor, teacher, astronaut, and firefighter, but what about other jobs essential to our economy, like research, web developer, programmer, or accountant? Realistically, most people don’t get exposure to these career options (and the working world at large) until they’re in their 20s. By then, they would have already gotten through high school and grappled with the question of what to do next. Through career exploration, middle school students can become more aware of these jobs and find something that truly suits them. This is the aim at Apprentice Learning. Their programs hope to inform eight graders about different career opportunities through two-hour workplace sessions over the course of six weeks. Students get to meet passionate adults in various career fields, and hone their professional skills along the way.

Provides middle schoolers a path to pursue

According to an article from NBC Boston, roughly 40% of juniors and seniors in Boston Public Schools — around 2900 students — were chronically absent last fall, registering a post-pandemic increase of 500 additional students missing class. To combat increasing drop-outs, career exploration during middle school can help motivate students to graduate high school and pursue higher education. Once young students identify the relevance of the core curriculum for their future careers, they can be inspired to stay engaged with schooling and even strive for academic success. The year-round Workplace Exploration program offers students a chance to visit businesses and meaningfully engage with employees. From there, Apprentice Learning hopes to ignite young students’ sense of purpose and broaden their sense of belonging in the community, which are essential to keeping them on-track.

Motivates students towards growth

The transition from elementary school to middle school creates a near-universal increase in anxiety, stress, and discomfort. A University of Wisconsin-Madison’s study on middle school transition notes that students face increased self-awareness and heightened sensitivity towards social acceptance as they move up. Likewise, Maryville University’s human development and family studies curriculum points out that shifting societal trends also affect young teens through complex, far-reaching issues like poverty, discrimination, and harassment — which may lead to psychological issues or stunted development. Career exploration with Apprentice Learning at this age can encourage students to be more confident, learn self-reliance, and feel more independent, especially as they venture beyond the orbit of their parents. Having a dream career in mind can also give them a sense of clarity while they mature.

Gives them time to prepare for a career

Career exploration gives young students more time to understand the working world, so they can prepare for success. Once they discover their potential career, they can set realistic goals and work towards that job. They may be more open to talking to guidance counselors or people working in the field. They may even opt to sign-up for specific high school classes, join clubs, or take advantage of other relevant opportunities for training and hands-on experience. The 2022 Apprenticeship program, for instance, will begin with in-school preparatory classes followed by an on-site apprenticeship with adult mentors. Through these sessions, students can gauge their strengths, build a toolkit of communication techniques, and even create their first resume. This know-how can continue to inform students throughout their lives, especially when they begin applying for work.

Helps them develop transferable skills

Middle school students are curious, creative, and braver with learning, so they’re at an age when they’re more willing to try new things. Early career exploration would shift a student’s basic knowledge to skills application. In an internship or an apprenticeship, they can improve their talents in writing, photo editing, or working with spreadsheets. They would also gain a new understanding of important competencies like communication, collaboration, problem solving, and project management.

In the blog post on Closing Gaps, it mentions how even online programs can guide eighth-graders in learning important career skills. These virtual capabilities further student development, especially during the gap period before high school. To learn more about Apprentice Learning, sign-up as a volunteer, or donate to our cause, contact Apprentice Learning today.

Article written by Robbie Jordyn
November 29, 2021

For the exclusive use of apprenticelearning.org

Closing Gaps

We are facing a terrible crisis in education due to the pandemic, and in the midst this, new opportunities can emerge.

While our eighth graders long for a return to in-person school and apprenticeships, recent data shows they are learning important career skills in our online programs (see our charts below).  And new virtual capabilities offer us ways to continue to support our alumni to build their career skills even as they attend over 30 different Boston high schools.

Thanks to funding from partners, Youthworks and the Boston Private Industry Council, we are launching a new paid internship program for 40 ninth grade Apprentice alums. The program, LaunchPlus, will offer 40 hours over 10 weeks of virtual career skills, careers exploration, and weekly small group meetings with our staff. Youth will earn $700 for completing weekly “deliverables” and the program will culminate in youth completing an online job application for the City of Boston’s Success Link summer job program.  Our goal: have all students capable and ready for a virtual summer job.

With few career programs and job opportunities for this age group, LaunchPlus extends our reach and fills a critical gap during the transition to high school–already a difficult period for young people. 

Our program services now span grade seven to grade nine and we are growing a career pipeline to nurture a talented, diverse future workforce in Boston.

We are so grateful for the support all of our partners, individuals, and foundations have provided to help us reach more young people. 

Having Open Conversations: Operationalizing Equity and Opportunity with Our Worksite Partners

After reflecting on the murders of Black and Brown people at the hands of the police, we realized that we could play a bigger role in combatting racial injustice by having open conversations with businesses in Boston around operationalizing equity and opportunity. Our work is rooted in a desire to build a workforce that is welcoming to young people from across Boston especially those who attend its public schools.

Dismantling exclusive networks and rebuilding inclusive, culturally competent networks requires that each of us re-evaluates the role we play in perpetuating injustice, even if it is seemingly innocuous. We must work intentionally to create organizational cultures that support individuals from a range of backgrounds. Our worksite partners are our allies in this mission — here are four strategies we shared with them for operationalizing equity, when working with our City Summer Interns. We are sharing them here in the hope that they are helpful for other businesses and programs involved in similar workforce development initiatives.

  • Acknowledge that First Impressions Matter.

When you are introduced to our interns, what are the messages you want to send? All of our City Summer Interns identify as female and are Black/African-diasporic, Latina, or Multi-ethnic.

Will any of the employees who interact with them be of the same ethnic or cultural background?  Did any of your employees attend Boston Public Schools or grow up in a Boston neighborhood? It helps to make these connections. If not, it’s good to acknowledge the proverbial elephant in the room, because our collective silence can do unintended damage.

We discuss first impressions in our skills seminars because we know that our interns notice the race and background of the professionals they meet—and addressing it openly is the best approach.  Apprentice Learning staff can help moderate these discussions. For example, “From first impressions, it appears we represent different racial backgrounds. During our time together, we hope to be able to learn more about one another and discover more about our individual experiences as well as qualities that we may have in common.”

  •  Learn from One Another: Authentic Connection.

It’s clear what the interns hope to learn from you, but what do you hope to learn from them? We want to offer an exchange that’s a two-way street where all experiences have equal value.

How can you create connections with the interns that go beyond the surface? One way to deepen your engagement is by listening to discover shared interests and points of common ground. Often implicit biases hinder our ability to connect. What do you think you know already about the demographics of our interns? What is your evidence? Is it accurate? Are you open to knowing differently?  Ask how interns spend their free time, what do they love to do? What are their future dreams? Who inspires them?

  • How People Change Policy.

What conversations are you having internally at your organization around diversity, equity, and belonging? How can you share some of those insights and experiences to demonstrate to our interns how change happens at an organizational level?

How did the events surrounding Black Lives Matter affect your organization in positive ways? What are your hopes for your organization?

  • Your Actions and Engagement Matter.

How can you promote your work with Apprentice Learning as an action that contributes to equity and opportunity in your organization?  Please share your involvement with Apprentice Learning and our youth within your organization and promote organizations like Apprentice Learning. We firmly believe that building a diverse workforce starts early by giving young people a sense that they are welcomed and their skills are valued in an organization. This is what ignites purpose and career passions.

Statement on Racial Justice from Apprentice Learning’s Board and Staff

At Apprentice Learning, experience ignites purpose. Witnessing the uniquely compounded injustices inflicted upon Black people, we write with renewed vigor and humility as we denounce oppression in all of its forms. The Apprentice Learning community grieves over the tragic and senseless deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade. We recognize our responsibility to say their names and speak truth to power. Systemic racism impacts all of us: our staff, students, families, alumni, board and business partners. Our students are receiving mixed messages about both the significance of their lives and their rights to protest inequities. We firmly stand with those who unabashedly profess that Black Lives Matter and who edify our youth to confidently and safely navigate society. 

Our core commitment has always been to close the opportunity gap and nurture the dreams of young people from communities impacted by a long history of systemic racism in this country. Apprentice Learning fosters experiences that inspire and enable young people to seize their futures, creating a pipeline where power can be redistributed so that all of society benefits and thrives. Our students and their families, our alumni, and our worksite partners are worthy of this endeavor.

Peer Leader Positions Available for Virtual City Summer Internship 2020

This is a position open to girls who have completed City Summer Internship as an intern, will be at least 15 years old by July 1, 2020, and are entering 10th, 11th or 12th grades. We are seeking program alumna who can work alongside Apprentice Learning staff members as an excellent leader, role model for interns, and program assistant.

Program Dates: Wednesday July 8 to Tuesday, August 11, 2020  8: 30 am – 2 pm

Staff Training dates: Thursday-Friday, July 6-7, 2020  9 am – 1 pm

Must be able to attend ALL dates.       Salary: $12.75/hr.

Daily Responsibilities:

  • Host morning Zoom chat times from 8:30-9:00 am
  • Enter attendance into a master spreadsheet
  • Help interns get to know each other and develop a positive community
  • Be a positive  role model by fully participating in every activity
  •  Support teachers during Zoom seminars and virtual workplace explorations every week
  • Come up with thought-provoking questions to pose during each community meeting

Other Projects:

  • Lead ice breakers at community meetings.
  • Write up a guide to surviving freshman year of high school
  • Come up with their own personal story of City Summer Internship- first person, present tense, captivating story, explains what does Apprentice Learning do
  • Teach how to introduce yourself/handshake prep for a workplace exploration

How to Apply:

Send an email to Letta Neely, Program Director (lneely@apprenticelearning.org or Helen Russell (hrussell@apprenticelearning.org saying why you want to apply and why you would be a great Peer Leader.

Complete the City Summer Internship program application found here.

When The Universe Says, “Pivot”, What Does Apprentice Learning Do?

“…..we must create a virtual pathway to obtaining what our kids deserve. It is our obligation to pivot: to learn and teach new steps. We know that many worksites across the city are ready and willing to partner with us in this dance. “

Post by Letta Neely, Apprentice Learning Program Director

COVID-19. We could stop there, except, we can’t. We have too much at stake.  The world as we know it has lost its clothing and all is laid bare. Schools, businesses, parks, and malls are closed. With all this, one could presume that the work of Apprentice Learning has no place in this “new world”; that everything is on pause because our Apprentices have no worksites to visit each week; because summer programs may cease to exist during a global pandemic. There are a lot of ways we could hear, “NO!” in the stillness. 

However, at Apprentice Learning, we hear obligation and opportunity. Our mission:  “Leveraging career explorations to teach skills and nurture dreams” still applies. Our clarion call “to spark passions and interests; to give a sense of purpose to a young person’s present and future” hasn’t changed. 

So when the Universe says, “Pivot”, we pivot. 

In this new world, we still must provide a patina of normalcy for middle school students. We must continue to believe in and to provide a foundation for the future. In the world of remote work, a number of essential skills remain the same: eye contact, proper greeting, knowing one’s signature strength and primary learning styles. And…there is more to do now, more to do differently. 

There is opportunity in this new time to teach and model a newly emerging set of essential skills: remote work habits, oral and written communication skills,  presentation efficacy, time management and organization, personal drive, team work, and independence; and lastly, problem-solving mindset and trouble-shooting capacity. 

These are skills that our middle school students need in this new world (whether it remains virtual in the long-term or not).  Helping middle schoolers develop, maintain and augment these capacities widens their horizon. Becoming fluent with these “emerging essentials” will broaden our Apprentices’ access to their future careers and other dreams. These are skills we can teach. So, we must create a virtual pathway to obtaining what our kids deserve. It is our obligation to pivot; to learn and teach new steps. We know that many Worksites across the city are ready and willing to partner with us in this dance. 

Host an Apprentice: Together, we educate for the future.

Preparations are underway in schools for Spring apprenticeships. Over six weeks, eighth graders are identifying their strengths and interests, practicing handshakes and eye contact, all while learning about each of the apprenticeship options available to them beginning in the first week of March.

This past fall, most all apprentices (83%) had a perfect attendance rate. This demonstrates how engaged our apprentices were and that they had a sense of responsibility for showing up at their worksites—a valuable work habit! 

….when it comes to a job, you always have to be on time and polite in order to do things right.  —Angie, Community Servings

By creating these small successes, and linking them to larger goals, apprentices see the important link between career and school success. And we encourage those who did not succeed to try again!

We are enormously grateful to our 70+ worksite partners across the city who invite students into their workplaces and mentor them to succeed at work. Take a look at our list of site partners! Would you consider hosting a young person? Click here to learn more!

We’re Hiring: City Summer Internship for Girls

Seeking a talented educator to lead our five-week, paid career internship for rising ninth grade girls.

City Summer Internship (CSI) is a summer internship program for girls entering ninth grade that provides $100 per week stipend. This five-week program introduces young women to opportunities in Boston’s economic engine neighborhoods using a blend of classroom-based career education activities and real-world experiences.

Five weeks of success seminars are paired with workplace explorations where the girls visit a variety of businesses, focusing on fields where women are underrepresented. Weekly preparation for workplace visits includes group discussions on goal setting, values, as well as practicing leadership, self-presentation, communication skills and self-advocacy in the workplace and beyond. The program is taught through a gender lens with an emphasis on unpacking gender and racial stereotypes.

Every facet of the program is designed to help understand and break through barriers that limit young women’s access to career opportunities in Boston.

City Summer Internship Program Dates: July 8 – August 11, 2020

The City Summer Instructor must be committed to girl’s development. The ideal candidate is professional, creative, flexible, able to teach a diverse array of curriculum concepts, and able to communicate with young people and adults. Above all, this person has the ability to spark curiosity, creativity, and confidence in all City Summer Interns. The City Summer Instructor is responsible for implementing the City Summer internship experience for up to 25 interns in a variety of classroom environments. She will support delivery of an intentional youth development program to increase girl’s confidence, positive work habits and professional skills and use classes and weekly explorations to spark interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and other careers where women are under represented. 

Primary Responsibilities:

  • Plan and co-deliver daily City Summer Internship lessons for up to 15 students per class.
  • Create a safe, respectful girl-centered learning environment.
  • Create and review weekly lesson plans with the Program Coordinator prior to delivery.
  • Create lesson plans that are culturally relevant for a diverse population of students.
  • Organize classroom to facilitate independence and self-control in students.
  • Work closely with all staff to track participants’ progress.
  • Contribute as a team member with other staff and do what is needed to succeed.
  • Communicate regularly with families.
  • Plan and support weekly workplace explorations.
  • Effectively utilize prep time to prepare for activities and explorations.

Skills & Requirements

  • Experience working with middle school girls required.
  • Experience working with diverse families and communities required.
  • Effective verbal and written communication skills necessary to work with young people and their families, staff, and worksite partners.
  • Ability to manage up to 25 students in a safe, respectful environment.
  • Basic computer skills
  • Ability to walk distances of up to one mile, bend, lift, and move up to 20 lbs.
  • Proof of TB test within the last year
  • Bilingual Spanish/English preferred.
  • Must have a cell phone and active phone number

Terms: Employee at will. This a Temporary position. Employment Dates:  July 1 – August 13, 2020. Hours:  8 am to 4 pm.  Staff Orientation/Site Start Up:  July 1,2,6,7 2020. Wrap up: August 12, 2020.

To Apply

Please send your resume and a letter indicating highlighting your strengths and interest in the program to info@apprenticelearning.org. Position will be posted until it is filled.

Thank you, Cummings Foundation!

City Summer Interns at NorthStar Asset Management

We are so thrilled to receive a second year of generous funding from The Cummings Foundation.  Thank you, Bill and Joyce Cummings, Joel Swets and Joyce Vyriotes and all of the Cummings employees and volunteers who donate time to support the great work of social service and educational organizations across the region. Your support makes our work possible and we are more effective thanks to this very special grant.

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