Mecklenburg County Public Schools (MCPS) is very pleased to announce that we have received a pilot Extended Learning grant from the Virginia Department of Education in partnership with the Southside Youth Development Corporation (SYDC). This pilot grant of $50,000.00 gives MCPS and SYDC the opportunity to create and initiate preliminary summer activities for middle school students to engage with local business for career exploration and foundational understanding of important work skills. Success with this program will lead to more financial support in future years to broaden the scope of activities with more business partners as well as assist the students as they move from middle to high school.
Whenever one engages business leaders in conversation about critical skills for potential employees they immediately begin to emphasize the importance of “soft skills,” or the attitude for success that are so critical. This includes such issues as:
· an understanding that it is very important to show up to work on time every day
· to have the appropriate cloths for the job
· to be respectful of the boss and the customer
· to keep the job as the priority while working instead of personal issues
· to get along well with fellow workers.
These are personal qualities that will be emphasized during the summer program. At the same time, the students will have multiple opportunities to explore multiple types of careers with local business within the context of the six career centers that are being set up with our local schools. This will give the students practical exposure to the soft skills within the context of real careers while they are developing a sense of what job would fit their own unique interests and talents. The pilot will begin working with middle school students as this is the best age for significant career exposure.
This DOE funding opportunity is called an “extended learning” grant because the focus is to provide critical learning opportunities for students beyond the time of the traditional school day. This grant is often used by school divisions to plan for special weekend or after school academic remediation programs. Some schools are even using it to create a year-round schedule for students. But what better time is there than the summer to engage students in activities where they can learn how to be successful in the real world while having fun? There are many great opportunities to do this, including summer camp, road trips, 4H or Scouting activities, and even vacations. These activities are known as “informal education” programs. Research shows that students often learn more real-life skills while participating in these opportunities than they do in school.
MCPS provides credit to students who take advantage of these programs through the use of digital badges. Each badge carries point values that add up for academic and career opportunities while in school. For example, successful participation in this extended learning program could open a door for a youth apprenticeship or job shadowing program with a local business while in high school.
Unfortunately, not all students have opportunity to participate in summer activities of this type because of the busy-ness of parents or financial restrictions. The Southside Youth Development Corporation has focused on providing support of this type of for local students for over 20 years. SYDC engages support from many churches throughout southern Virginia to enable them to do this. Mecklenburg County Public Schools considers this type of local engagement to be critical for our students. This is a perfect example of “wrap-around” community support, and we partner with many civic and church groups, as well as business, to provide these opportunities for our students.
Planning for the summer program begins immediately. Announcements about how the program will be set up and how students may apply to participate will be shared with parents and the community in the spring. We look forward to seeing this program become an important component of our school division’s mission to “prepare all students for success with careers of the 21stCentury.