by Lance Ozier, Ed.D; Senior Literacy Specialist
More than 100 ninth graders at the Benjamin Franklin School for Finance and Information Technology at the Cambria Heights campus in Queens, NY buzzed with anticipation as they filled the library for the school’s inaugural Career Day on February 10, 2015. The keynote speakers included professionals in banking, healthcare and non-profits—all of whom emphasized the importance of identifying personal interests and setting clear career goals.
The Career Day event complements the skills students learned during their Career and Financial Management (CFM) class they completed last semester. The course explored a wide range of careers—not limited to the areas of finance or information technology. As a follow-up, the Career Day’s objective was to give students a hands-on opportunity to hear more about a range of occupations and communicate with professionals from careers unfamiliar to them.
Following the keynotes, other featured guests including firefighters, educators, marketers and even 2014 Miss New York (who is the founder of a mentoring organization, “Amaze Me!”) shared their personal career stories in small group discussions with students. Curious students practiced interview techniques and critically considered the preparation and education needed for many careers and what the job entails.
Career Days have inspired students for generations and today’s workforce demands breathe new life into the importance of this long standing tradition. While most would agree on the benefits of Career Days, some might see the event as a distraction from lessons and learning. In the era of Common Core standards and high-stakes assessments, educators and policy makers focused on student achievement often minimize the value of extracurricular programs.
However, the Washington D.C. based Partnership for 21st Century Learning identifies success in the workplace requires more than core knowledge from instruction; students must also learn the essential skills required in today’s careers, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. By practicing these and other social skills with professionals, students are building important non-cognitive skills essential for career and classroom success. Recently, these skills have also been linked to academic performance as increased social skills are thought to improve academic behaviors.
Career Days, unlike a traditional classroom lesson, give students opportunities for deeper learning as they practice maintaining eye contact, offering a firm handshake, speaking audibly and confidently—all skills not effectively taught with books and worksheets.
According to Dr. Carla Theodorou, founding principal of Benjamin Franklin, “We are grateful to all the professionals who attended and consider this a first step in a series of events to strengthen our students’ “soft skills” –the skills needed to communicate effectively in college and professional environments.”
Benjamin Franklin is just one of the schools and districts ISA is working to transform so that students who are traditionally underserved and underperforming graduate prepared for success in college and careers. If the purpose of schools is to offer the equality of educational opportunity, schools must become personalized places for young people to acquire and practice these important skills so they can imagine ways they might adapt to and overcome the challenges in an ever-changing world.