By Ryan Velez
Many may have had their eyes turned to the Chicago school system due to some alarming statistics or the philanthropy of Chance The Rapper. Whether they're public, private, or another variety, schools are trying to use new educational techniques to help their students beat the odds and have the chance to become prepared members of the workforce. Hechinger Report shares one such story of a school threatened with closure that managed to turn itself around by going off the beaten path.
Chicago Technology Academy is a contract school—similar to a charter. Its students don’t generally come from the type of places that allow the opportunity to develop professional connections or graduate from college. In fact, more than 90% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 14% are counted as homeless. Designed to give students skills needed for the tech sector, Chicago Technology Academy (ChiTech for short) has had each senior-year student spend a month out of school working full-time at predominantly tech-oriented internships. This is part of a larger trend of schools providing real-life experience as part of their curriculum. After nearly being shuttered three years prior, ChiTech had to reevaluate exactly what real-world skills were important.
T J Pavlov, a psychology teacher who oversees ChiTech’s Real-World Learning program and regularly checks in at student worksites, shared with Hechinger Report some of the work that went into setting students up with appropriate worksites. Last year, he helped the 74 seniors at the school create interest inventories and upload them to a networking startup’s platform designed for youth.
“The students matched their interests with postings of paid internships from about 30 of the school’s corporate partners, including the educational software company Codemoji, the advertising agency DDB and Black Tech Mecca, a think tank studying technology use and development by African-Americans,” Hechinger explains. Along with this comes some lessons in financial literacy, like holding portions of their stipends for taxes, since they have no withholding as independent contractors. Other lessons include how to dress and behave at an office, and larger things like gaining a vision of their future.
Before Real-World Learning, Pavlov said, “our students were having a hard time making decisions about their plans after graduation, because they couldn’t envision it.” These internships are even helpful for people not thinking of going into tech, like Makesia Gavin, who interned at Black Tech Mecca last school year and then at Yolobe over the summer, but plans to study social work and criminal justice in college. “I’m actually interested in being a juvenile probation officer,” said Gavin.