Category: Education Matters
Developing the Talent of the Future: Can a Work-Based Learning Network be the Answer?

It’s a pressing conversation growing in urgency in Hartford and across Connecticut, as more employers seek ways to create the robust talent pipeline needed to fill vacant positions.

One promising talent development strategy involves educators, community-based organizations, and employers collaborating to create better and more opportunities for high school students to engage in work-based learning — an integration of classroom training with real-world work experiences. Developing quality activities that link work and learning helps ensure  students have the skills and key training they need to compete in post-secondary education and the workforce.

While pockets of work-based learning opportunities exist for Hartford students, the experiences for both students and employers are sometimes disparate, disconnected, and disappointing for both.

Some employers have expressed concern about students who lack the necessary work readiness skills and some students note the employer’s lack of capacity to create meaningful job tasks that build career skills. Additionally, students don’t always see the connections from classroom to work.

A Network Can Help

To build city-wide collective action around work-based learning for students, the ALL IN! Coalition and Capital Workforce Partners convened the Work-Based Learning Network first with those community-based providers in charge of placing and supporting students in internships. The first members to join include:

Blue Hills Civic Association

Center for Latino Progress

Jr. Apprentice

OPP

City of Hartford

CBIA

CRT

Hartford Public Schools

Members got to work discussing a set of uniform competencies that all could agree will help ensure foundational skills are built across all work-based learning activities.  Now, nearing completion is the toolkit for providers, schools and employers that lays out those competencies and how to assess them, to be piloted this summer through the Summer Youth Employment and Learning Program (SYELP).

Developing the talent of the future and closing equity gaps for Hartford students will depend on strong work-based learning programming that can help students not only identify a career path but be ready to pursue it through post-secondary education and training. Ultimately, it’s how we will achieve a thriving regional economy and better communities for all.

We look forward to sharing more about this work as it develops and encourage our partners and colleagues to join us.

 


New Agreements Give Big Boost to Eliminate Summer Melt: A Summer Transition Team Update

The unofficial start to summer has begun, and with that the official start to an often-overlooked phenomenon of “summer melt” – a surprisingly common occurrence when college intending Hartford students – those who graduated, completed SAT’s and college applications, got accepted – ultimately fail to show up on campus in the fall. Hartford students who have overcome significant hurdles to graduate high school find this next leg of the race particularly difficult to transcend.

First generation students, especially those from urban settings like Hartford, tend to lack support networks to help them through the often-frustrating process of enrolling in college. School counselors aren’t available over the summer, relatively few family members have been to college, peer pressure from friends who are not college-bound, and the allure of paychecks from jobs over the summer can all actively discourage them from that final step in the college matriculation process.

Promisingly, interventions like the “summer melt initiative” launched by the ALL IN! coalition have shown progress in increasing the number of students who enroll.  Efforts to mitigate attrition among college-intending high school graduates — which include phone calls, text messages and personalized email reminders from outreach specialists – can be what inevitably makes them successful in navigating this transition.

Now in its third year, the summer transition program is getting a major boost of additional resources to support more Hartford graduates.  Three higher ed institutions have signed MOU’s with the coalition to provide the list of Hartford students who have applied and were accepted, simplifying and standardizing the process of connecting directly to the right students. The schools include: Manchester Community College, Capital Community College and Central Connecticut State University.

In previous years, students have been nominated for the Summer Melt action team (now referred to as Summer Transition) by their school counselors, based on the criteria that they have been accepted to college, are not in any other summer program, and seem at risk for not actually enrolling for the fall.

With an accurate list from the higher ed institutions, outreach specialists can focus their efforts on connecting more graduates to the colleges they planned to attend with greater efficiency.

So, over the next few weeks many of us will attend high school graduations, celebrating the achievements of those who worked hard to achieve the dream of maybe being the first in their family to go to college, let’s remember those Hartford students who will need a little extra support over the summer to fully realize these important dreams.


Seeing it Through: It’s Time to Talk about Retention

Only 25 percent of Hartford Public Schools graduates earn a post-secondary degree within six years of graduating, while about 60 percent of all students graduate within six years. More than 75 percent of HPS graduates are low-income and the first in their families to attend college, so they often lack the parental guidance and support their more affluent peers take for granted and often experience challenges that disrupt their education and throw them off track.

Thinking that the number of HPS graduates entering college each fall isn’t that large a number, the ALL IN! Coalition launched a Retention Action Team to address the challenges Hartford students face in starting post-secondary education and completing a degree.

“Retention is a central issue in higher education nationally. It affects and is effected by a lot of the debates about higher education such as affordability, access, inclusion and social mobility,” says Jennifer Baszile, Ph.D., head of student success and career development at Trinity College. “We know that part of our responsibility and mission really has to do with retaining as many students as we can.”

Baszile, who leads the Retention Action Team, welcomes the chance for seemingly different institutions – private, liberal arts colleges, private and public universities and community colleges – to come together to solve “the retention challenge that we all face and identify common challenges and solutions.”

Leaders from Trinity, Goodwin, Manchester Community and Capital Community Colleges, University of Hartford, University of St. Joseph, UConn’s Hartford campus, Central Connecticut State University, and several nonprofits have been meeting to brainstorm a research-based city-wide solution.

As a first step, they provided support to Hartford schools graduates who planned to attend college by extending the ALL IN! Coalition’s Summer Melt intervention. Through the Summer Melt action team, Hartford’s high school graduates were provided with one-on-one support from HPS upperclassmen through the summer after graduation so that they completed the necessary steps to begin college in the fall. The Retention Action Team provided mentors so the incoming freshmen could receive support through early September.

“That first month of college is a huge transition period,” says Chris Marcelli, Achieve Hartford’s staff support person to the Retention Action Team.

This spring, the team enters the pilot phase for a more robust peer mentorship intervention. Trinity, University of Hartford and Manchester Community College are working right now to identify two mentors each who are HPS graduates and older students at their institutions. The three schools plan to hold a joint training session for the students, preparing them to become peer-mentors to second-semester freshmen this spring and then again to incoming freshmen next fall.  Leaders from these institutions hope each mentor will work with between five and 10 mentees, depending upon whether they can find compatible matches.

Research and past experience show that mentor-mentee relationships only work if both the mentor and mentee have bought into the arrangement, says Aaron Isaacs, dean of students at the University of Hartford.

At Trinity, the retention rate for first generation students is higher than the college average, says Baszile. “When we institutionalize supports, we know the results are outstanding.”

Mentors will be tasked with helping new students navigate college and all that it entails, including financial aid, scholarships, loans, academic and social support and persistence in the face of academic and social challenges. Ultimately, once the program is fully implemented, Baszile says, action team members hope that an HPS graduate could walk on any campus in the region and know there are peer mentors from Hartford who look like them and are ready and able to help them adjust to college and connect with institutional support systems such as academic centers, work-study programs, counselling and health services.

Many first-generation students don’t know about all the supports that are available to students, including Educational Opportunity Programs designed to meet the needs of first-generation students, says Isaacs.

The University of Hartford has identified one mentor who has demonstrated perseverance and hard work, has made connections on campus and who wants to help other HPS graduates when they first arrive at UHart, he says. They’re looking for another mentor with similar qualities.

In this pilot year, up to six mentors will be receive stipends of up to $1,650 through funding from the ALL IN! Coalition, Marcelli says.

At Manchester Community College, staff is looking at Hartford Public School graduates who participated in the summer bridge program who are willing and able to serve as peer mentors, says Sara Vincent, interim director of strategic enrollment management. The program will be offered in partnership with Enrollment Services and programs designed for new and first-year students, providing additional resources such as programs focused on study skills and academic success.

In the pilot stages, there won’t be enough mentors to work with all MCC’s HPS first-year students. Another challenge will be establishing sufficient faculty and staff support for both the mentors and mentees so that the mentor-mentee relationship can be productive and helpful, not just an added responsibility, she says.

While still a work-in-progress, Vincent says, “we are hopeful we will be able to build a robust mentoring program that will serve as a tool to help these students with the ultimate goal of academic success.”


Who is Hartford’s Private Sector: Ethan Reid

Ethan O. Reid graduated from Hartford Public High School and knows what a difference the teachers who believed in him made in his life. Even when he graduated in 1995, he says, he felt frustrated by what he perceived as the city’s failure to prioritize education for every student.

Decades later, walking from his car to his office at CityPlace, Reid walked by High School, Inc. and observed the enthusiasm its principal had for the students and the insurance and finance academy.

“He was a breath of fresh air. I thought what he was doing with a focus toward finance was really cool. I was interested in getting involved,” says Reid, who works at a financial services company here in Hartford.

When the certified financial planner learned a new Weaver High School was being built that would house High School, Inc., he didn’t hesitate to get involved in the planning process. He brought his perspective as a product of the Hartford schools, along with a desire to improve them.

He’s passionate about today’s students and wants to see that they get the quality education they need so they can flourish, he says.

He wants to help the Hartford schools do better.

“I was lucky in the Hartford schools. I had really good teachers. I felt like the teachers cared,” Reid said. In addition to strong support at home, he says, athletics played an important role in his development. He’s concerned that opportunities for school athletics are waning.

As a member of High School, Inc.’s industry advisory board, Reid brought his passion and perspective to Weaver’s Culture and Climate Work Group. He and the others on the work group were laser-focused on creating a unified school.

How does a finance guy contribute?

“Questioning the status quo is something that I’ve always been pretty comfortable with,” he says. For example, those involved in designing the new Weaver have talked about how to shift the limited resources to improve the school experience for students.

“We’re seeing a different way of thinking about how the school could be – what could come out of a new high school.”

It’s not too late to get involved. The new Weaver High is set to open in August 2019.  “We need a whole army of people to make sure it plays out right. What about the next five years? We want to make sure that it’s still a blue-ribbon school,” he says. If you’re someone who looks at the state of the Hartford schools and it angers you, he says, you’d be “a wonderful volunteer.”

“Everyone has skills whether they know it or not that they could bring to a group. If you have a passion, you’ll find your place in a work group based on your skills,” he says. “If you believe that all kids deserve a shot at a good education, if you have some time to volunteer and help out and add one little thing to some of these kids’ lives, then you should do it. You should join.”


Designing Advisory to Strengthen Student Pathways

The All IN! Coalition steering committee – with members from Hartford Public Schools, city of Hartford, Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Hartford Promise, Capital Workforce Partners, Metro Hartford Alliance and Achieve Hartford – always recognized that its goals are ambitious, and that each is dependent on the previous one.

Post-secondary completion goals cannot be reached without major progress towards post-secondary enrollment goals, which in turn are unlikely to be reached without major progress towards high school graduation goals.

For months, members discussed what the district highlighted as a challenge of ensuring all students have a high-quality student success plan. An idea began to form around how neighborhood high schools could tap external resources to ensure students had a plan for succeeding in high school through post-secondary completion.  In response, the Advisory & Student Success Plan action team was launched.

All IN!’s newest Advisory action team is ready to utilize the high school advisory block as a vehicle for relationship building, academic success and overall college and career readiness.

Advisory programs are not new, but they often go unsupported or not well-organized, leaving some to believe the dedicated block of time could be better spent on instruction. During advisory, teachers meet with small student groups – usually for a shorter time than a typical class- to advise them on academic, social, or future-planning topics.

The broad purpose of advisory is to strengthen connectedness between adults and students to ensure every student has someone they can count on in order to access the support they need to graduate on time, connected to their learning and their futures.

Planning and research of best practices has been underway from the start of fall 2018 with implementation planned for January 2019 at the co-located Journalism and Media Academy and High School Inc., on the Barbour Street campus.

The team being led by co-chairs, Susan Johnston, teacher at JMA and Kevin Timbro, financial analyst at United Healthcare and industry advisory board member at High School Inc. is focused on bringing private sector resources – nonprofit, corporate, and higher ed – to support and complement what teachers have the time and capacity to do.

Building this out in one school with one group of students can pave the way for getting the support to every high school student later on.

With an early objective of scaling the pilot to reach all high schoolers at the new Weaver in August of 2019, the program this winter/spring will provide students with academic interventions, social/emotional supports, cultural competency training, financial literacy, career exposure, and other preparation for standards-based internship experiences.

An intentionally designed advisory with a developed vision statement, strong partnerships and collaboration are hoped to be the key elements in increasing student college- and career-readiness outcomes.

We’ll keep you posted on the team’s progress as the initiative gets underway.


Newest Team Launch: The Work-Based Learning Network

Despite all the providers knowing each other, internship programs still operate in silos with their own sets of career competencies, and employers still feel students are not as prepared for internships as they ought to be. That’s why the ALL IN! Coalition recently launched a work-based learning network that’s asking all providers to agree on one set of career competency standards.  Here’s an update.

A work-based learning environment links workplace tasks to academic and non-academic skill-building in the hopes of moving students up the ladder of college and career readiness.  Internship experiences bridge the divide between classroom learning and its application in the workplace, while also cultivating soft skills and post-secondary aspirations. For the employers that take on high school students during the summer or school year, the benefits are stronger connections to a pipeline of future skilled workers, deeper employee engagement, and ideally valuable interns.

But creating rich environments for work-based learning experiences that benefit the student and employer is easier said than done. Employers often cite concerns about their commitment to high quality and efficiency competing with their capacity to develop a raw and inexperienced young person, while high schools note that there is not enough time in the day to better prepare students.

Addressing this problem is the focus for the new All IN! Work-Based Learning Network that is bringing together a group of private sector leaders to agree on one set of standards to govern all internship programs for in-school youth in the city. The first major goal is to produce a toolkit that internship providers and employers can utilize. Once quality is being addressed, the goal will be connecting more young people with high quality work experiences.

Capital Workforce Partners is convening the network that right now consists of nonprofit providers and a handful of employers and that will soon begin working with another ALL IN! team setting up an advisory period during one high school’s day that can focus on career competencies directly.

The silo-breaking on this key issue of work-based learning program quality has begun, and if you are not part of it but would like to be, please reach out to the ALL IN! Coalition via [email protected].  More updates to come.


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