In this installment of ASA’s Path Forward blog series, we wrap up our conversation with education and career-readiness thought leaders on ways to help students adapt to change and build resilience (see parts 1 and 2 here). We continue in this post with comments from leaders at the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, the Latino Education Institute at Worcester State University, the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston, the National Career Development Association and Worcester Public Schools in Massachusetts.
We asked: We don’t yet know the full depth of the economic fallout from coronavirus, but one thing is certain: the ever-changing 21st century workplace will demand levels of resiliency and adaptability like never before. What more should we be doing right now to help middle school and high school students better adapt to change?
Deborah Re, President and CEO of the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston: “Our youth need continued social-emotional support. The focus, rightfully so, has been on academic planning for students, but how are we addressing their social-emotional needs in the absence of the connection that school provides through relationships with teachers, peers, and mentors? We know that isolation has a significant negative impact on mental health, especially in teens, so we must ensure that we are providing them with an outlet for meaningful connection, which in turn will help them focus and learn.”
Drew Weymouth, director of Innovation Pathways for Worcester Public Schools: “Students now need online communication skills. This is exposing the need for email organization and checking, professional writing, typing skills, navigating multiple sites and logins, using calendars and task lists, etc.”
Hilda Ramirez, executive director of the Latino Education Institute: “We need to ensure that students are learning the skills to learn on their own, so implementing project-based learning and collaborative learning, and making sure that they have a voice in their own learning. It’s also important to hear from our students and their families about how they are experiencing this pandemic.”
Scott Solberg, professor of counseling and human development at Boston University and member of the National Career Development Association: “Help educators recognize that despite the disruption to their education, we need to help students find hope and become future ready by identifying a life mission and goals and then examining multiple occupational opportunities that will enable them to pursue their mission and goals. If we are successful, students will begin to access other online academic supports as they seek to develop the skills and competencies needed to pursue these goals.”
Jackney Prioly Joseph, director of career readiness initiatives at the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education: “The good news is our K-12 education system has adopted learning standards that focus on developing students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills, which are essential in every job. However, we need to focus more attention on technology and computer science instruction, which is not only valuable, but also increasingly a pre-requisite for success in the modern workforce.
“The current crisis has made it very clear that too many students still don’t have access to personal devices and internet connectivity, which prevents them from fully participating in remote leaning and, even when a return to the classroom happens, denies them an opportunity to fully participate in a well-rounded instructional program aimed at developing skills that are required at work and in life. This crisis has thrown a harsh spotlight on these digital inequities while also creating an important opportunity to address the problem and better integrate the use of technology into student learning going forward.
“Half of all programming openings in the US are in industries outside of the technology sector, such as healthcare, manufacturing and finance. Even jobs in fields such as marketing, engineering and the arts now require some level of computer science skills. Yet, in Massachusetts less than 50% of schools with AP programs offer an AP computer science course and urban high schools are 23% less likely than others to offer a computer science course. Expanding access and getting more students into these classes will allow them to be more adaptable and could open up many more career opportunities for them.
“Lastly, students need early career exposure and experience, helping them to understand the potential career opportunities available to them and mapping out the pathways they need to take to get there. This early connection would also help them understand the relevance of what they are studying. Internships, volunteer opportunities and work-based learning experiences are all ways that high school students can acquire the workforce skills that are so essential to success, apply their knowledge and skills, and begin to learn about the world of work.”
It’s indeed true that listening to students’ voices, providing them with socio-emotional support, and pressing lawmakers to solve the digital inequities in education are critical during this time of crisis. At the same time, we must also continue to revolutionize the way we help students explore the future career landscape. Thanks to all our contributors for their thoughtful words of advice, and for the work their organizations do every day to get students ready for a changing world.
Next up in the Path Forward series, we’ll examine what thought leaders anticipate will be the biggest barriers and opportunities in college and career-readiness in the coming years.