future of work

Memphis charter school creates classroom inside international manufacturing hub

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Kayvion Walton, 17, is learning how to test water samples as part of his environmental safety project. He is one of the students from Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering participating in the school’s pilot program with Smith & Nephew.

Ten students at a Memphis charter school will spend the majority of their senior year learning about medical engineering — all while training at a global technology giant.

Kayvion Walton, 17, is one of the seniors from Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering participating in the school’s pilot program this year with Smith & Nephew, a global business with part of its company based in south Memphis.

“I’ve been accepted to Xavier College and I wanted the chance to be out in the real world,” Walton said. “I’ve gotten to learn how robots make (prosthetic) knees here. I came in thinking I would go to school for nursing, and I’ve learned a lot about how prostheses are used in surgery.”

The seniors spend four hours of the school day working on different Smith & Nephew projects, ranging from quality checks on prosthetics to environmental safety practices. Students spend the mornings completing senior coursework at school before traveling seven miles to the manufacturing hub in South Memphis.

Called “STEM in Motion,” the program’s creation comes amidst renewed emphasis on career and technical education as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.

It is part of a larger national focus under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which holds states like Tennessee accountable for bolstering the number of career opportunities, such as apprenticeships, that are available to students. While the push for teaching career-specific skills has wide support, some research suggests that such programs leave students pigeonholed in a fast-changing economy.

But at Smith & Nephew, company officials see the program as a way to bolster a local pipeline for future jobs, said Jessica Becker, senior director of quality for Smith & Nephew. Becker sits on the MASE board and helped to coordinate the program.

“I started here as an intern and here I am more than 20 years later,” Becker said. “We, like many STEM-related companies, want to maintain talent locally. … We see real talent in these high school students and one hope of the program is that these students will return as college interns or employees someday.”

For this year, the students’ projects all focus on engineering, but that could expand in the future.

“We have teams that handle all aspects of business,” Becker said. “We’re excited to focus on engineering for now, but there’s a lot of potential for the program. We’re wanting to give students that real-world exposure that’s so rare in secondary education.”

The pilot is a first of its kind for both MASE and Smith & Nephew, who have had a longstanding partnership, said Rodrick Gaston, executive director of the 15-year-old charter school. The company is donating space and instructional time to the school, and in turn, the students are assisting in projects for free.

Gaston said they modeled the pilot after the MC2 STEM High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where students spend each year of high school embedded in a different company or college around Cleveland.

Like MASE, the Cleveland high school has a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics focus. MC2 STEM opened 10 years ago as part of Cleveland’s push for more STEM-based schools and has seen successes in graduation rates and college-retention rates.

All seniors at the Memphis charter school with a 20 on the ACT and a 3.0-grade point average had the option to apply for the program, Gaston said. The school chose 10 seniors to participate out of about 20 applications.

But if all goes well during the pilot year, the goal would be to add more seniors to the Smith & Nephew program and partner a different company with the junior class. Gaston said they have had some conversations with Memphis children hospitals St. Jude and Le Bonheur on such a partnership.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
If all goes well during the pilot year, the goal would be to add more seniors to the Smith & Nephew program.

Success would look like fostering passion and curiosity among the students participating, Gaston said. But the school will also be monitoring the students’ grades and test scores to make sure that the program doesn’t take away from their academic success.

“We have a MASE teacher onsite to assist the students with their projects and incorporate lessons throughout the day,” Gaston said.

For Lakayla Mathews, a 17-year-old in the program, the biggest takeaway has been time management.

“I’m learning how to balance school work and this internship,” Mathews said. “I wanted to do it because I wanted that exposure before I graduated high school. I want to be a clinical psychologist, and learning work ethic and teamwork here will help in later on.”

Where the jobs are

Chicago invests $12 million into expanding pathway to construction trades

PHOTO: PHOTO: Steve Hendershot / Chalkbeat
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel visits Prosser Career Academy Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018, to announce a $12 million investment in vocational education.

What happens when Mayor Rahm Emanuel headlines a pep rally in a sweltering, Northwest Side high-school gymnasium to promote a $12 million investment in vocational education?

Lots of HVAC jokes, for one thing. And some students fanning themselves with the signs they’d been given that read “Thank you” and “Mr. Mayor.”

As he makes rounds in the city touting his accomplishments  — after announcing Tuesday that he would not run for reelection in February — Emanuel was flanked Thursday morning by luminaries from Chicago Public Schools, area trade unions and employers such as ComEd. On Wednesday, he dropped in on a pre-kindergarten class to push his early-education initiative.

Thursday, there was also lots of enthusiasm about the city’s push to develop career and technical education curricula, to bolster economic opportunity in the neighborhoods.

Part of a $1 billion capital plan announced over the summer, the $12 million investment at Charles A. Prosser Career Academy will expand the school’s vocational training beyond its current emphasis on the hospitality industry to include construction trades including carpentry, electricity and, of course, HVAC.  

Many welcome such initiatives as a long time coming. Vocational preparation has been deemphasized in favor of college-preparatory programs, said Charles LoVerde, a trustee of a training center run by the Laborers’ International Union of North America. He’s glad to see the investment.

The city’s current construction trades program launched in 2016 at Dunbar Career Academy High in predominantly black Bronzeville. Prosser makes access easier for West Side students, including the predominantly Latino residents of Belmont Cragin, where it is located.

“Dunbar is a great program, but my kids are not going to go to Dunbar because it’s just too far — it would take them two hours to get there,” said 36th Ward Alderman Gilbert Villegas, who pushed Emanuel to launch Prosser’s CTE program.

Access is important because CTE offerings are among the district’s most in-demand programs, according to a report released last month by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Demand is not even across demographics, however, with vocational programs more popular among low-performing students, students from economically isolated elementary schools, and black students, according to the report.

Almost one in five seats at district high schools focus on vocational education. But Dunbar’s — and now Prosser’s — focus on the construction trades has Emanuel and Villegas excited, because Chicago’s construction boom means that jobs are readily available.

“There’s not a building trade in Chicago — a carpenter, an electrician, a bricklayer, a painter, an operating engineer — that has anybody left on the bench,” Emanuel told the crowd at Prosser.

Villegas sketched out an idealized, full-career path for a graduate of the new program — one that includes buying a home and raising a family in Belmont Cragin. “I see it as a pipeline that would extend our ability to maintain the Northwest Side as middle class,” Villegas said.

The investment in Prosser comes as part of a broader, national effort to invest in career-technical education. In July, Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized  a national $1.1 billion program for job training and related programs.

The new program at Prosser not only will give more students access to training in the building trades, but also will provide proximity to some labor partners. The Laborers’ International Union of North America operates a training center less than a mile from Prosser, where students will have a chance to learn and also visit job sites, LoVerde said.

He said that college-track programs also have their place, but career education presents a clear path to a steady income.

“This gives [unions] a focused path to recruit and find students who are looking for a different path,” LoVerde said. “Becoming a career construction laborer is a job for life.”

future of work

Tennessee approves its first-ever computer science standards for K-8 schools

PHOTO: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post

With regional jobs related to computer science going unfilled, Tennessee soon will introduce academic standards designed specifically to strengthen those skills beginning in elementary school.

The state Board of Education gave final approval Friday to Tennessee’s first-ever computer science standards for elementary and middle schools. The benchmarks will reach classrooms in the fall of 2019.

In the works for a year, they’ll replace computer technology standards that were last revised in 2011.

State officials say the current standards don’t capture the critical components of computer science, a growing field with jobs especially in healthcare, transportation, and banking. In 2015 across Tennessee, for instance, only a third of the 90,000 jobs posted for workers in IT, or information technology, were filled.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the employment gap represents a huge opportunity for students as the state also emphasizes instruction in science, technology, engineering, and math, also known as STEM.

“We don’t have enough students actually interested in computer science because they don’t know what it is,” she told members of the board earlier this year. McQueen cited research showing that 50 percent of people who pursue STEM careers trace their interest to exposure in first or second grade.

“Getting kids interested really does matter at those very, very early ages,” she said.

For elementary schools, the new standards will focus on introducing students to the basics of computer systems and programs — and helping them learn about safe and responsible device practices, such as protecting private information and using passwords securely.

For middle schools, students will study computer-related calculations and information-processing skills used to create computer programs. They’ll also discuss “digital citizenship,” which covers how to interact safely with people and content online. And they’ll explore career opportunities related to computer science.

Except for instruction in coding and computer programming — which will be taught as a stand-alone class — the skills are to be integrated into existing core classes in English, math, science and social studies. They’re “things our teachers are already doing,” said Melissa Haun, math coordinator for the Tennessee Department of Education, of most of the new computer science standards.

“We’re not asking teachers to do more things or give them a heavier workload. We’re asking them to be aware of the standards and be deliberate in how they can enhance their instruction with technology because we are in a very very digital world that moves very fast,” Haun told the state board in April.

"We don’t have enough students actually interested in computer science because they don’t know what it is."Candice McQueen, commissioner of education

School districts will have discretion on how to add coding and computer programming instruction to the mix. Many school systems already are piloting such curriculums after investing in digital devices in the ongoing transition to computerized state testing.

McQueen said coding represents “one of the most underutilized opportunities that we have.”

“If you can get kids to think like a coder and the problem-solving that occurs with that, … you can start to inspire them around opportunities,” she said. “That coding skill set, and the language of coding, opens up about 75 percent of jobs that they may have never thought about before.”

Computer science marks the latest new standards for Tennessee, which has or is in the process of revamping benchmarks in all four core areas of instruction.

New English and math standards start their second year this fall, new science standards are about to begin, and new ones for social studies reach classrooms in the fall of 2019, the same year of the first-ever standards for computer science.