I did my undergraduate degree at the University of Waterloo in Canada. It is a fantastic school (I might be biased), and it contributed greatly to preparing me for what awaited me in the years that followed.
In addition to the academics and the social, thanks to their Co-op Program, I graduated with excellent work experience, zero debt, and a firm job offer. Combining the practical with the learning is a critical success factor for any educational system.
I can’t count the number of candidates I’ve interviewed over the years with a solid academic pedigree, but no sense of the working world, how to navigate it, get things done, add value in a team setting, and even to be self-motivated and driven. We’d take a chance on some, but there’s no substitute for someone who can hit the ground running with both school and street smarts.
Many colleges and universities are embracing co-op or similar approaches to better prepare their graduates for employment (I’d like to think Waterloo is a pioneer!), as now are some forward-thinking high schools.
I was invited to speak to the faculty of such a high school a couple of weeks ago - Saint Martin de Porres in Cleveland. It was an eye-opening experience.
Saint Martin teaches low-income students and is noteworthy for many reasons, the greatest of which is that EVERY student graduates (vs. ~50% for the rest of Cleveland); and every graduate in the school’s history has been accepted to at least one college or university, all with a >30% higher college persistence rate than the national average. ...Wow!
From the founder to the school head to the faculty, everyone is committed to (in my words) the ideal that every child matters; that they must embrace and nurture each student; imbue drive, resourcefulness and perseverance; and teach them to embody integrity, respect, and grace.
But there’s more - every student is required to work for a local company in a four-student job-sharing team, where together they cover a full work-week throughout the school year (1.25 days/week/student).
Over 100 companies in the Cleveland area are Corporate Work-Study Program partners, and this year alone, will invest more than $2.5 million towards funding the school! ...Wow!
Saint Martin takes this program very seriously - in fact, a teacher told me that they have a (very real world) zero-tolerance policy if students fail to take their job seriously; they are a bit more tolerant of in-school lapses, but work is work.
So... not only does every student receive an excellent education, they also graduate with work experience; are savvy about the workplace and how to thrive there; and they benefit from their very generous employers who provide mentorship and career guidance.
Blending theory and practice (master/apprentice) is at the heart of true learning and life-preparation, and has never been more critical than in this day and time, when students (and especially minorities) are disproportionately unemployed.
This alone is noteworthy, but there's also this:
The students’ academic proficiency is undisputed (100% acceptance of graduates to college/university), but they accomplish that with 25% less class time than other schools! Recall that each student spends five (5) school days every four weeks (ave 1.25 days/week) at work.
That’s “lost” teaching time -- or is it?? When you personally experience the application of learning outside school, your desire and capacity to learn in school grows, as does your engagement in class. In other words, they have improved the efficiency of teaching and learning by removing the kids from the classroom and putting them to work! How cool is that!
While almost every teacher I’ve ever met is worried about the volume of content that must be taught in a very limited time window, the faculty at Saint Martin has been able to literally teach more in less time ‘cause their students are steeped in context.
An important lesson for all school leaders and teachers.
Inner city students are the most disadvantaged among us, and it is important to learn from schools like Saint Martin de Porres, who are changing this by caring for their students, being innovative and creative in how they prepare their students to be kick-butt graduates, and by ensuring the sustainability of the school.