Students are ready to lead and learn – let’s embrace it

“We should stop forcing kids to do this, that, or the other thing – and let them BE KIDS,” one commenter asserted. Within a few minutes, several others were chiming in, giving the same feedback.

It’s not unusual. We see kids, especially young ones – still moving through elementary school – getting tougher, and tougher schedules. I’ve fell into this narrative before, perpetuating it without fully-understanding what’s in front of me.

In the last three months, I’ve sat down with faculty and students from one local school, which is far from unique – to discuss programs that are taking shape, to help students be well-rounded, and also ready for the next steps of their lives.

In December, I had the opportunity to talk with students and faculty about Rachel’s Challenge at Mynderse Academy. It involved students taking the lead – advocating for a better school and community – through their own actions.

It was incredible to see.

This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down three members of faculty from Mynderse Academy to discuss a new program. It’s known as the “School to Career” program, and engages students on an incredibly important topic.

More importantly, it helps them work through a question: What’s next?

This question is important. Dating back to my own time in high school – it didn’t happen until senior year. Typically, it meant months before graduation. There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare, there wasn’t much time to ‘try’ things out, and most of us were left taking a wild guess about the thing that we wanted to do.

I graduated from high school less than 10 years ago.

And now, so much has changed. Students have the opportunity to try different things. This program allows them to work through ideas in their heads, and get experiences that lend to their next step.

Maybe it’s a trade. Maybe it’s entering the workforce immediately. Maybe it’s going to a two- or four-year college to pursue a degree.

It’s different for every student. And the School to Career Program gives them the ability to learn about the path that might be best for them.

You know what else it does? It gives students, who have historically lacked any desire to hang around the Finger Lakes – a reason, through relationships – to make a life here. One cannot understate the importance of that fact. Students have historically lacked a reason to stay. But now, a program like this gives them the chance to build relationships with folks who can become real, local role models.

That’s huge. And it cannot be understated.

Furthermore, getting back to the comment that brought us here – that kids should be ‘left alone’ to ‘be kids’ is laughable. The one thing I’ve learned from these students, and the faculty who encounter them on a daily basis – is that there is no shortage of desire to be the change that we call for each day.

We want to see more engaged young people. We want to see young people engage with our politics, community, and become the next generation of entrepreneurs. That happens through programs like this, which allow students to be prepared.

Think about what would happen if this program didn’t exist. Most students would go away to college – some for the right reasons, others not – and pursue a degree. By the time they are college sophomores or juniors – they may realize that their passion, or a viable career is elsewhere because of their experience pursuing that degree.

It wasn’t unusual when I was in high school and college. I can think of a number of friends in my own circle who went through one, or more, ‘major changes’, or dropped out entirely because they didn’t see the viability that was advertised initially. There were economic factors at play – coming out of a recession – was one of them, but that wasn’t the core issue.

That was inexperience. We didn’t get experiences ‘on the job’ like students are in these School to Career programs. We were given a short list of options, based on grades, personality, and identity, at which point we were told to ‘make a decision’.

I also know students who left the area to pursue something that was right here all along. I went to high school and college with people who are now entrepreneurs elsewhere, because that relationship to the community wasn’t built until they went away to college.

Programs like this prevent all of this from happening, and also prevent students from making a financial mistake that can follow them for decades.

This is the future of education, and students are ready to answer the call – to lead their generation to a better life than the one we had, even just a few years ago.

Read more about the program here, watch the entire interview above, AND subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. While you’re there, rate and review the program. It helps new listeners find it and stay engaged in the Finger Lakes.

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