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.