STRATEGY: Identify key workforce opportunities for students in the community.
Ensuring that students have the opportunity to be engaged in the workforce is an important and valuable option for some high school students. According to sociology professor Jeylan T. Mortimer, if students are able to work even fifteen hours or less, they will learn how to deal with stress and find balance in their lives. Furthermore, these students can learn on-the-job life skills as well as utilize the collaborative and critical-thinking skills that are ideally part of their classroom experience every day.
Another benefit of identifying workforce opportunities for students in the community involves the possibility of developing mentors for at-risk youth. At-risk students who are unable to find positive and meaningful relationships are susceptible to behaviors that will ultimately be counterproductive in terms of grades, attendance, and graduation. Therefore, schools and communities have the opportunity to have an at-risk student engaged in something productive while also potentially developing meaningful mentors. According to the National Mentoring Partnership, young adults who are at risk for falling off track but have a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly, 90 percent more interested in becoming a mentor themselves, and 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions.
School districts would benefit from developing a concerted effort to join civic groups such as Rotary International and local business chambers in order to identify possible benefits of working together. Many districts already work with local businesses to determine how they can help increase graduation rates in their local high schools. Employers who serve as mentors for high school students can have a powerful effect on the trajectory of those students as well as the community as a whole. Much as counselors identify scholarship opportunities for students, a job and mentor coordinator can work with both students and employers to identify powerful possibilities for connection and learning.
The job and mentor coordinator can establish mentor training opportunities to ensure that students have an excellent experience. Guidance for developing a successful mentoring program can come from such organizations as the National Mentoring Partnership and the National Mentoring Resource Center.
First Steps to Consider
The ultimate success of any major initiative starts with the ability to secure a quick win; success is, of course, a series of small wins. Schools can start with some simple wins before embarking on a longer-term journey.
- Invite employers to discuss their needs and possible opportunities to develop strong collaboration. The media likes to cover unique and unusual stories, so this can be an excellent opportunity to spread the word.
- Develop strong partnerships with nonprofit organizations, which may be able to offer students community service opportunities (and then perhaps part-time jobs). A brief presentation in front of the board of education can help the community know that the school is trying to extend learning beyond the regular school day.
- Have a student panel present the benefits of establishing a healthy school-work balance. Some students don’t always see the benefits of being more organized, gaining real-world experience, and applying their learning to life outside of school.
The following three-step process can foster additional wins moving forward.
1. Present the benefits of mentors and workforce opportunities for high school students at a local Rotary Club meeting.
2. Follow up with a small pilot program consisting of four to six mentors and students. The possibility of job opportunities will naturally enhance the possibility of attracting a wider pool of students.
3. Present the social and emotional as well as academic benefits of the program to the club at the end of the first semester and the end of the year.
Complexities & Pitfalls
Any initiative that goes against the common practices in schools or mandates that people do things differently has to be effectively explained, closely monitored, and continuously adjusted. Therefore, effective leaders need to develop a coalition that can explain the value of developing workforce opportunities for students in the community, while carefully avoiding the pitfalls that can derail the initiative.
- How many at-risk students are completely disengaged from school?
- How will the community benefit from more workforce and mentoring opportunities for high school students?
- Who will be an inspirational leader who can develop a guiding coalition?
- What opportunities exist to form powerful partnerships (workforce and mentors) within the community?
- What actionable steps can be taken in the next ninety days?
- How will progress be measured?