Guest post by Mary Anne Moran
Do you ever stop and wonder what the traditional high school experience is preparing our students for? Are we preparing students for life beyond the high school or college classroom? Do the hours in the classroom have a direct correlation to future success? It is time we begin to reconsider the programming that we are offering in schools to ensure that our students are prepared for their futures rather than the next classroom.
Nipmuc Regional High School, a school of 600 students in central Massachusetts, has been working to answer those questions for the last four years. In order to evaluate our programming, we spend a lot of time listening to our students and asking them about the learning experiences that are most meaningful. Sometimes the answers they share can have a lasting and transformative impact on teaching and learning. Four years ago, a graduating senior responded to his senior exit interview by saying that the most impactful high school experience was an internship that took place in the pathology department of a hospital in Boston between his junior and senior years. While we would like to take credit for placing this student in the internship, the truth is that it was offered to our students because the father of another student happened to be the head of the department at the hospital. It was luck, really. After spending four years in our classrooms, this student’s most consequential experience did not really have anything to do with our school. We knew we needed to change.
It was during the next year that we developed the Nipmuc STEM Scholars Program. In its pilot year, 35 seniors signed on to the program, committing to take rigorous courses in STEM areas to engage in workplace-readiness training, to explore careers through career-shadowing experiences, and to interact with higher education through collegiate experiences. The success of the first year was noted when over 100 juniors and seniors (one-third of the students) jumped on board for the second year of the program. Now in its fourth year, the program has expanded to include a Humanities Scholars Program, making it as inclusive as possible for all students.
Connecting our classrooms to colleges and careers is a challenge that more and more educators are embracing. While breaking away from traditional programming is a complicated undertaking, there are few simple steps that any school could take to develop such a program.
Listen to your students: Be sure that you regularly have formal and informal ways to listen to your students. Some of the best ideas are born from students.
Develop a clear vision: Take the time to align your programming to your school’s core values and beliefs. If it is going to be successful, it must mirror the values of your school community.
Foster a culture of high expectations: Raise the bar for all students. Embrace the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Students continuously impress us with their commitment and professionalism.
Establish community partnerships: Build partnerships with professionals and local businesses that will help support and drive programming. Tap on the wealth of knowledge and expertise that exists within your community.
Get connected: Network with other schools and organizations in your area that are working toward a common cause. Many schools have models in place that can be shared and adapted to meet the needs of your school community.
Prepare students for the workplace: Remember that the ultimate goal is the workplace. Regardless of their career pathway, all students need the employability skills that will help them be successful.
Develop career-shadowing opportunities: Give students the opportunity to explore what careers they would or would not like to pursue in their future. This helps students take the guesswork out of determining what they want to do beyond school.
Think beyond the college tour: Find ways to get students on campus and partner with professors and universities. Whether participating in research or experiencing a college course, these partnerships will ensure that students are prepared for life on a campus.
Market your achievements: Share the successes of your program with your community. In order to continue to expand the partnerships and celebrate the continued work of students, teachers, and the school community, we must not forget to market our achievements.
To learn more about Nipmuc’s STEM Scholars Program and to access additional resources, visit http://10keystostemsuccess.weebly.com/.
It is time that educators and administrators look for opportunities to partner with professionals to ensure that learning in the classroom and beyond prepares students for their futures. It is not good enough to prepare students for their next assessment or their next classroom; it is our responsibility to connect students with colleges and professionals. Look for areas of opportunity in your school and develop programming that will support student success in the future.
Mary Anne Moran is the associate principal at Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton, MA. Passionate about reimagining, redesigning, and reinventing education, she was named the 2016 Massachusetts Assistant Principal of the Year.