In Community: Career Connected Learning Through Partnership

By LaVonia Montouté

 

Career Connected Learning—“a continuum of awareness, exploration, preparation, and work experience developed through strong public and private partnerships”—has been a hallmark of the Boston education landscape for decades, enabling students to participate in varied and immersive learning opportunities that expose them to the world of work. In 2020, Boston leaned deeply on the partnerships to sustain access to and focus on career learning for students, while also redesigning experiences to meet the needs and call of both a health pandemic and racial reckoning. During the 18th Annual EdVestors Showcase, student, education, and workforce leaders discussed how they transitioned to meet the demands of a double pandemic, their lessons learned, the importance of partnership, and their recommendations for the future to ensure that more students access and benefit from career connected learning experiences.

The speakers shared their incredible pivots in one of three areas: strategies that increased students’ career awareness, career exploration, and career immersion.

 

Career Awareness: Supporting MyCAP and Implementing Virtual Career Lessons for the Class of 2024

Marsha Inniss-Mitchell, Director of Postsecondary Partnerships in Boston Public Schools (BPS), opened the conversation by highlighting the ongoing work in BPS to ensure each student has an individualized student success plan, known locally as MyCAP (My Career and Academic Plan). MyCAP is a key strategy in the district’s college, career, and life readiness framework. In 2020, the BPS team designed a MyCAP distance learning program through Google Classroom to foster student engagement around career learning activities. The team targeted 9th grade students who were most likely to have experienced a significant transition due to starting a new school remotely. Particularly, educators and district leaders noted that discussing careers and the future cultivated a sense of hope in a time of uncertainty.

Partnership was at the core of design and implementation. Leveraging collaborations that spanned the Boston Opportunity Agenda and Generation Success, College Advising Corps, UMass Boston Precollegiate Programs, Boston University Center for Future Readiness, EdVestors, and many more, the BPS team designed and implemented virtual career lessons that engaged students in self-exploration exercises and formed early connection to their career aspirations. Partnership with college access organizations were critical to increasing the number of students who participated in this work virtually during the school year. 

When asked why they focused on career lessons this year, Ms. Inniss-Mitchell explained that the district is focused on supporting students’ self-exploration process, providing them with the tools and supports to identify meaningful careers to them, and aiding their navigation towards their goals.

 

Career Exploration: Virtual Bootcamps in Partnership with Employers and Mentors 

The Boston Private Industry Council (PIC) provides a range of support for students in career connected learning, including school-based staff known as PIC Career Specialists, to support career readiness tasks, hosting job shadow days, and facilitating connections between students and employers through annual summer youth jobs campaigns (A Summer Like No Other). In addition to continuing each of these work areas virtually, the PIC maximized the unique flexibilities of the remote environment and longstanding partnerships to connect students and employers in growing industry sectors for a four-day bootcamp during April break. 

Through the bootcamp, students developed skills in design thinking, data science, or engineering by engaging in virtual project-based learning led by employers and the Ace Mentor program. Joseph McLaughlin, Research Director at the PIC, noted that amidst the pandemic it was important to bring students together, connect them with adults through career learning, and support their informed decision-making about their future plans including postsecondary opportunities and majors. Mr. McLaughlin also noticed an important translation of remote work skills to the classroom, sharing that for many students who worked remotely in the summer they felt more confident managing the demands of remote learning in school in the fall.

 

Youth Internship in the Arts in Partnership with Citywide Arts and Cultural Institutions 

Zorely De la Rosa, Boston Arts Academy ‘21, shared her experience in completing a virtual internship through Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston (BAI), a seven-week program hosted by EdVestors that connects students with more than 20 arts and culture organizations across the city to engage in arts administration work experiences. Zorely developed a website that enabled students and teachers to connect for online classes at Community Music Center of Boston. She enjoyed the work of using technology to build connections between people and saw applications to her career aspirations of being a research scientist and creating community around public health topics. 

As a student participant, Zorely reflected on the benefits and challenges of remote internships. She shared that the virtual format was not always easy but helped push her to work independently and built her confidence in reaching out when support was needed: “ Now I feel like I can do projects on my own.” Zorely stressed that community for students is important and that connections to her supervisors, other interns in the program, as well as BAI staff were important to navigating the workplace. BAI also leverages partnerships to provide wraparound supports for students in college writing from 826 Boston, college exploration through College Advising Corp Boston University, and executive coaching from Muadi B. Dbinga Unlimited consulting.

 

Implementing a Virtual Internship in Partnership with Students and Families 

Melodie Knowlton, PhD, Director of the Learning Lab at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, has been a longstanding partner of BPS and the PIC, supporting STEAM learning in the classroom and hiring up to 40 students to work in the Vertex labs each summer. An exemplar program that blends workplace skill development and whole student supports, the Vertex team creatively addressed the challenges of transitioning to a fully virtual internship and committed to the motto, to not just “make do, but to make best.” The company witnessed and responded to the impact of the digital divide, both by getting Vertex technology to students and supporting students with connectivity challenges to enable students to be fully on camera and engaged. They also redeveloped their curricula to adjust for at-home experiments and safety needs, bringing in partnerships with local restaurant chains and leveraging baking as a key model of basic biological and chemical principles. An unexpected outcome of this particular innovation is that the at-home kits allowed families to connect more deeply with the work that students were doing in their internship and increased access to STEM equipment and processes. 

The Vertex team also focused on community, creating spaces for students to connect independently to disrupt the effects of physical isolation required during the summer. They made space for conversations that responded directly to the racial inequities that were amplified throughout summer 2020. In a year, where many feared disconnection, disengagement, and disillusionment, Dr. Knowlton shared that the best part of the program was finding out that “at the end of the summer, after having students online 35 hours a week for six weeks, when we said ‘you can log off’, they did not want to log off”. The Vertex team developed a community that fostered professional and personal development and provided a venue to offer care and support for one another throughout the summer

 

Student Empowerment Through Community Collaboration 

The session concluded by putting all of this work in context through the lens of data and how Boston uses partnerships to understand the experiences of students at scale through “anywhere, anytime learning” metrics. Collaboration between BPS and the PIC is just one example of the deep data partnership that enables real-time capture of student learning experiences from career awareness to career immersion, and can inform community action. Roshni Wadhwani,  College, Career and Life Readiness Analyst for Boston Public Schools, described how  BPS leveraged the data insights to bring college and career partners together to directly support students’ future readiness by rallying organizations to support career exploration activities and FAFSA completion. 

Despite the challenges of the past year and a half, the panelists conveyed a commitment to continuing to deepen access to career learning and build upon lessons learned. Many supported continued use of technology to expand regular access to career learning. Recommendations included:

  • Employing a flipped classroom in schools to enable students to do their key career tasks at home using virtual platforms and then partner with educators in the classroom for discussion and guidance;
  • Increasing project-based learning opportunities for students and finding ways to leverage the flexibilities of remote work to allow more students to access these opportunities during the school year and school breaks;
  • Continuing to use technology as a way to connect with more students and allow them a broader learning experience; and 
  • Prioritizing time for students to connect as a community during work experiences as a means of community connection.

 

LaVonia Montouté is the Director of Career Pathways. Learn more about the Education Showcase here.

Advancing Racial Equity: Perspectives on Practice

By Alia Verner

 

One of the primary themes during EdVestors’ 18th annual Education Showcase was advancing racial equity in education. The panelists provided powerful examples of racial equity work in practice alongside recommendations for how to advance racial equity from different perspectives. Panelists emphasized the importance of providing collaborative and differentiated learning opportunities for school staff, families and students; incorporating culturally affirming, holistic curriculum and teaching practices in the classroom; and working collectively to address the root causes of racial inequities in schools.

The speakers, comprised of practitioners and community members, included Dr. Jaykyri Simpson, Director of Young Man with a Plan; Garcie Champagne, Boston Public School parent at Mozart Elementary and Co-Chair of their Race and Ethnicity Committee; Michael Baulier, principal of the Mozart Elementary SchoolLovely Hoffman, Edison K-8 Music Teacher; and Anthony Beatrice, BPS Executive Director for the Arts. 

 

Prioritizing Racial Equity 

Despite the renewed attention to racial equity work, racial inequities and the systems, institutions, practices, policies, and culture that produced them are deeply embedded in America’s history as well as the current education system. Students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students in the city of Boston, have been disproportionately impacted by gaps in opportunities and outcomes. Dr. Jaykyri Simpson, Director of Young Man with a Plan, discussed how this past year has further disadvantaged students of color as they experienced disproportionate harm from COVID-19, family economic insecurity, racial trauma, as well as increased neighborhood and gang violence that have had heartbreaking effects on students’ lives. Thus, advancing racial equity within our school systems requires addressing the root causes of these inequities both within and outside of classroom walls.

For our panelists, and so many other education practitioners, families, and community leaders in Boston, racial equity work is not a new priority but has been the priority, the core of their mission statements, the driver of their actions and decisions. What does it mean to prioritize this work in education? Michael Baulier, Principal at the Mozart Elementary School, provides a description: “Prioritizing racial equity means applying an anti-racist lens to every aspect of the Mozart community, every staff hire, every family interaction, every leadership decision, every instructional choice, every main office referral. Prioritization means this work is consistent. It remains year after year, and our efforts grow and deepen every step of the way.” Our panelists shared how they prioritized and worked towards racial equity in education both within and outside school walls. 

 

Collaborative and Differentiated Racial Equity Learning

Panelists spoke about the importance of providing both collaborative and differentiated learning opportunities for school staff, families, and students. 

Garcie Champagne, a parent at the Mozart and co-founder of the Mozart’s Race and Ethnicity Committee (REC), shared that school staff and families deeply valued engaging in professional development together: “It felt like a true exchange of ideas where families are able to have input and be a part of the thinking and brainstorming and bring themselves into the curriculum and the activities students are a part of.” She emphasized the importance of bringing all stakeholders to the table to ensure collective learning and opportunities to hear multiple perspectives. For Principal Baulier, it is crucial to learn from and engage in thought partnership with “educators, families, and community members who have different identities and lived experiences” because his “identity and perspective as a single white male administrator is limited.” 

While opportunities for collaborative professional learning are important, learning and growth opportunities centered on racial equity also need to be differentiated to meet the individual needs of those involved and build upon their already existing funds of knowledge and lived experiences. “Meeting the needs of families of color and needs of white families is often different,” Champagne observed. “It is important to acknowledge that people are coming in from different places, which necessitates different entry points of learning.” One of the ways in which the Mozart community has responded to the various needs of their families is by creating affinity groups for families with shared affinities to share and problem-solve together. 

At the district level, differentiated professional learning is a core strategy for supporting arts educators. Anthony Beatrice, the BPS Executive Director for the Arts, shared an overview of the Arts Department’s racial equity professional learning framework. One of the department’s realizations when beginning this work was that arts teachers were at different stages of their learning journeys and that professional development had to meet the needs of all teachers. The Arts Department used the Continuum of Cultural Competency to identify stages of cultural competency and sequence learning experiences for arts educators.

 

Culturally Affirming and Holistic Approaches to Teaching

The Boston Public Schools Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps Policy describes a culturally affirming curriculum as one that connects with students’ cultural schema and affirms and admires their backgrounds, identities and experiences. 

For Lovely Hoffman, a music teacher at the Edison K-8 School, providing culturally affirming education experiences to her students means teaching from a holistic perspective and ensuring “what we are teaching is relevant, socially conscious, and teaching the whole child.” In practice, this requires moving away from western traditions of compartmentalized subject areas to a more interdisciplinary approach that brings in the real world and students’ identities. Hoffman utilizes a broad range of musical styles, poetry, and songs to teach students about different cultures and leads lesson activities that enable students to bridge connections to their own cultures and identities. As an educator, she saw that low self-esteem was a recurring issue among young Black girls, directly impacting their confidence, motivation, and performance in school. In response, Hoffman created her now viral music video “My Black is Beautiful” and accompanying Self-Esteem Curriculum for Young Black Girls to “encourage young girls of color to define and embrace their natural beauty.” Her “Kwanzaa Song” video teaches students about the traditional African-American holiday and her poetry unit examines Tupac Shakur’s music and poetry in relation to larger discussions about racial relations in America. 

Dr. Jaykyri Simpson describes Young Man with a Plan (YMWAP) as a holistic mentoring program for young men of color. Beyond academics, YMWAP mentorship helps students make sense of and prepare for the world they live in as young men of color. Students in YMWAP discuss a variety of topics with their mentors of color and each other, including race and identity, current events, academic challenges, healthy relationships, finance management, stress, and college and career options. 

Principal Baulier believes curriculum must “engage students in learning about representative journeys of achievement, social justice, and antiracist action.” At the Mozart, school staff and families examine and transform current curriculum together. In their Race and Ethnicity Committee, parents brainstormed literature projects with educators that allow students to explore their racial identities. They worked collectively to unpack and understand the Learning for Justice Framework for Anti-bias Education and Social Justice Standards, then applied these standards alongside antiracism research and the Universal Design for Learning framework to co-develop writing units and grade-level curriculum. 

The BPS Arts Department has worked with arts teachers to decolonize and examine existing curriculum for bias using the 7 Forms of Bias Protocol. Auditing curriculum often resulted in the district asking vendors to change existing curriculum, having to buy new curriculum, or creating curriculum on their own. The Arts Department created their own Elementary General Band book that focused on merengue, muchata, and hip-hop after auditing the existing instrumental bandbook and finding it heavily Western European-focused. Like the Mozart, they also engaged in co-creation, enlisting high school students to create artwork for elementary general music teachers to accompany lessons. Beatrice noted that auditing curriculum for bias does not necessarily mean removing content and bias from curriculum, but adding counter-narratives and explicitly teaching students how to be critical consumers of information. 

 

Cross-sector Collaboration for Change 

Operating across sectors is critical to the success of Dr. Jaykyri Simpson’s YMWAP mentorship program. To advance racial equity, Dr. Simpson calls for an honest, holistic, radical, and collaborative approach to system change. This approach acknowledges and addresses the root causes of racial inequities, considers the interconnectedness of factors impacting students both in and outside of the school building, and requires cross-sector collaboration so that everyone can “row together,” put adequate resources in the right places, and make broad-scale change. 

YMWAP breaks down silos by working across different types of schools, in partnership with families, and alongside other organizations like the Private Industry Council and the Boston Police Department. As a result of YMWAP’s collaborative and holistic approach to mentoring, students’ academic and social-emotional skills improve, and the program bridges understanding across sectors, schools, races, cultures, and neighborhoods. 

 

Continued Commitment to Racial Equity in Education

Racial equity in education requires change in our classrooms and school buildings, but also calls for change in all policies, practices, and environments that shape the lives of students and their families. The approach to broader systemic changes rests firmly in working collectively and holistically. Racial equity has to remain a priority and it has to center students first. As Principal Baulier states, “The more we do racial equity work, the more work there is to do…We learned that no matter where you start, you have to start somewhere.”  Until every child, regardless of race or ethnicity, has access to the opportunities, resources, and support they need to thrive in our school system and beyond, we all have work to do. 

 

Alia Verner is the Director of Strategic School Support. Learn more about the Education Showcase here.