This op-ed was written by Sincere Hines-Bey of Action4Equity in Winston-Salem
In an era where information is plentiful, a generation of children are intellectually being left behind. Life itself took a reset during the pandemic. Most students missed a year and a half of in person instruction. That is also one and a half years of social interaction lost amongst a diverse range of people. They saw life without daily restriction and routine. Some joined gangs, others began working, and many became preoccupied with social media.
Society is moving at its own pace, and the key is to recognize when a system is outdated for modern use. Against this backdrop, legislators in Raleigh are trying to push through a policy originally known as SB 193 — which stalled in committee and is now included in the proposed budget — that would require a 7th grader to adopt a “career development plan” or risk being held back.
Our work through the Embedded Mentoring Program (EMP) has shown that money motivates, especially for young people who are daily facing the challenges of poverty. Life has shown that where there’s poverty, crime is likely to be high, because the trauma level of an area is high. We have too many schools across the country that serve poverty stricken communities where the traditional public school system and curriculum do not meet their social and emotional needs. If a system is going to obligate parents to send their child to an institution, then the system is obligated to meet the needs of the public they claim to serve.
Our work has also shown us that students learn differently, and those differences are not always well served by the traditional classroom and educational program. Let us take into account the particular needs of the students and families we serve. Let us take heed when a student is unable to sit still. Let us take action when social media has taken the attention of an idle mind. Give them the liberty to choose, with the option to explore their talents now in a trade that will excite and motivate the proper attitude to achieve academically, knowing they have a path to achieve economic success.
Using a misguided policy that could lead to tracking and increase grade retention amongst a student demographic who are already disproportionately impacted by it, is a blatant disservice to that demographic. Instead, consider building a career development path to the high school diploma, where the first half of the school day shall consist of educational instruction, while the second half of the school day would be geared toward career development. This would be a viable option for students whose learning styles or interests may not be best served by the traditional school plan.
If we know the demographic landscape of each school and are committed to creating multicultural partnerships with local businesses, then there is a robust pathway to establishing mentorship programs in trades and industry for 6th-12th grade students. What would anchor this approach is job shadowing. Hillside High School of Durham has utilized the school-based enterprise option, and maintains a fully functional bank within the school that is run by the students, and supervised by staff.
Middle school job shadow scenarios might include pairing students with licensed professionals with whom they can contact and ask questions. No hands-on work related to the profession is
required from the students. This job-shadow is mostly for the visual and professional environment experience and would give the student time to observe the day-to-day operations of each trade/business from the vantage point of the professional. Students may be asked to do simple janitorial tasks such as emptying trash or sweeping floors.
Class instruction would remain the same for the core classes (Math, English/Writing/Lit., History, and a Science of choice). This can be done many ways. I would suggest teaching one subject in the morning, while using the second half of the school day to transport students to their designated job shadow site, with a possibility of replacing the elective period block at the end of every schedule.
By the time a student reaches high school, job shadowing opportunities should always be available. There are already existing opportunities in conjunction with the “Career and College Promise” via Forsyth Tech, to serve tenth grade students who demonstrate a strong desire to choose a trade over the traditional school path.
In the “Career Development Path’,” ninth and tenth grade shall be a transitional Level of Schooling. During this time “Three Schooling Style options” shall be made known to students, and must choose by the end of tenth grade. Ninth grade would continue in the same manner as the eighth grade: shadowing opportunities, but with the added option to select an occupation to then be assigned a mentor, internship, apprenticeship, a combination of some, or all three. We should also consider the formation of a work Co-op, where if a student has a regular job, they can work, while still utilizing the job shadow option to further their insight on a career.
As outlined, there are many ways that students can work towards job training while still receiving a quality education. The community must stand against SB 193 and its inclusion in the proposed budget. It is also time to invest in a pathway that provides options for all of our students to be part of an inclusive economy, one that leads to prosperity for everyone. Let’s get to work.
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