Ideas in Action: Connecticut Charter School Encourages Passion for Lifelong Learning Through Career Exploration
Monday, April 16, 2018 | Safal Partners
Key Takeaway: Introducing students to career pathways and major fields of study in elementary school may inspire lifelong learning and persistence through college.
“We believe in the idea of trying on different identities: ‘I’m going to be a photographer, robotics engineer, or actor in a Shakespeare play.’”
If everyone could have the opportunity to ‘try on’ a different career path at some point, perhaps it would lead to more career fulfillment and happiness in the United States. Currently, U.S. career engagement among employees hovers just over 50 percent, according to Gallup. That means the majority of American employees are indifferent and neither like nor dislike their job.
That indifference is what Elm City College Prep Elementary School in New Haven, Connecticut is trying to prevent through the ‘trying on’ strategy. At this school, students are encouraged to be curious about new career pathways and fields of study through career exploration early in their academic life.
It’s a topic Elm City school leaders discussed in a recent article on The Hechinger Report. The network currently has one Greenfield school in each state where it operates—Elm City in Connecticut, Achievement First Aspire Middle in New York, and Achievement First Providence Mayoral Academy Middle in Rhode Island. A fourth Greenfield school, Achievement First Linden Middle, will open in New York in the fall. The “Greenfield Design” includes an emphasis on personalized learning, digital learning, enrichment activities, and what they call “expeditions.” These expeditions explore anything from touring a construction site, learning Tai Chi, and performing in a play, all the way to frog dissections and taking blood pressure as part of a “mini-med school.” One expedition in photojournalism introduced students to finding stories in the community and telling those stories through photographs.
Speaking to The Hechinger Report, Greenfield model design team leader Aylon Samouha said, “The activity might light the spark that creates a deeper purpose, but even if it doesn’t, it’s the experience of trying on something new, seeing how it feels and then hopefully opening yourself up to try the next thing.”
The expeditions take place every eight weeks and last one or two weeks at a time, allowing the student to take a “deep dive” in an area of interest.
The Greenfield program’s mission to inspire students early on isn’t just about getting them through high school. Rather, school leaders aim to stoke students’ fire for lifelong learning to eventually be successful in college. In a 2016 Achievement First report, they recognized a need to better serve their students. Although 97 percent of Achievement First alumni enrolled in college right after finishing high school, the college completion rates for alumni were between 30 and 50 percent. The network’s current projected six-year graduation rate is 50 percent, and while that’s well above the national average for low-income students, it is far from where the network wants to be. Achievement First reflected on these trends and created its Greenfield Design, centering around students’ own dreams and goals.
That design features four “modalities of learning,” including self-directed learning time, small group learning, large group learning, and, finally, immersive experiences. It’s a combination that Achievement First leaders say relies on family and staff motivation, but most importantly on student ownership. The idea is that when students feel ownership of their own learning, they have more of the intrinsic motivation needed to sustain hard work and persist toward long-term goals, like college completion.
Safal Partners has supported Career and Technical Education (CTE) in our work, and we are excited to see elementary students being given exposure to career pathways. To read more about Elm City College Prep Elementary School, visit its website. To learn more about Achievement First’s Greenfield Design, read more here.