Sybil Low by Sybil Low

In a novel move towards early career development, middle school students in Boston are taking up apprenticeships in a wide variety of fields. An article in The Hechinger Report recently featured this new approach, shedding light on the transformative experiences of these young apprentices.

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Boston's Apprentice Learning Program Spearheads Early Career Exploration for Middle School Students

Key Takeaways:

  • The Boston-based nonprofit Apprentice Learning is successfully pioneering an initiative where middle school students gain real-world work experiences through apprenticeships, providing exposure to various career paths at an early age.
  • Experts suggest that the ideal time to start exploring careers is actually during middle school, as this is a stage when kids are usually more open and eager to discover their interests.
  • While these programs  provide valuable hands-on experiences, they are currently more of an exception. Incentives, funding, and accountability systems are crucial for a wider adoption of this system.

Tajzhane Francis, an eighth-grader apprenticing for Boston’s city councilor Julia Mejia, serves as a prime example. Tajzhane expressed: 

“When I first received this opportunity, I was actually surprised and really happy. Like, it was something that I didn’t think I would get the chance of doing in a long time, but also it seemed pretty cool.”

The program through which Tajzhane found this opportunity is run by the nonprofit Apprentice Learning. They are working diligently to introduce young students to a multitude of careers starting in the eighth grade, operating in five schools across Boston.

The Need for Career Explorations

The importance of such an initiative is underscored by Maud Abeel, associate director at the nonprofit Jobs for the Future. She explains, “It’s this young adolescent developmental period when there’s this really innate curiosity that’s now connected to this growing sense of becoming aware of who they are, what their likes and dislikes are, what gives them a sense of accomplishment, what their values are.”

Further elaborating on the need for early exposure to careers, Abeel adds, “Middle school is also a time when students can start to harden into these beliefs that they’re not the right fit … that they don’t have what it takes to have a career path that leads them to a high-paying, high-demand career.”

After completing Apprentice Learning’s six-week workshop, students like Tajzhane get to apply what they’ve learned in real-world settings, choosing from the organization’s 70-plus worksite partners across the city.

The benefits of this approach extend beyond the students, as Maguire Dalporto, a quantitative trading strategist with GMO, a global financial investment company in Boston, explains. “By collaborating to put on activities and workshops for the kids, Dalporto and his colleagues have built stronger working relationships,” he said.

However, despite the clear benefits, programs like Apprentice Learning are more the exception than the rule. As Abeel points out:

“Most districts encourage some sort of career exploration in middle school, but without incentives, such as funding, or an accountability system, it falls to programs like Apprentice Learning to provide these experiences.”

The program has proven so beneficial that Tajzhane is now considering continuing his experience with a summer internship at Boston City Hall, proving the long-term impact that such early career exposure can have on young students.

Understanding the Power of Work-Based Learning

The idea of work-based learning, as exemplified by the Apprentice Learning program, is rooted in the belief that practical, on-the-job experience complements and enhances traditional classroom education. It presents students with a chance to explore different careers, develop valuable skills, and connect their academic learning with real-world applications. Work-based learning can take various forms, from internships and apprenticeships like those in the Boston program, to job shadowing and cooperative education placements.

No matter how it’s set up, the main goal is always the same: connecting what’s learned in the classroom with real-life applications. It’s a chance for students to see firsthand what working in various jobs is like, to understand the responsibilities and challenges that come with different professions, and to build relationships with professionals in fields they might be interested in. This early exposure can have a significant impact, helping students make informed decisions about their future career paths and potentially sparking interest in fields they might not have considered otherwise.

Related articles:

Unpacking The Facts on Why US PhD Programs Take Longer

Battling ‘Stretched Adolescence’: Degree Apprenticeships and Subsidized Housing Could Be The Way Forward

Apprenticeships: A Rising Alternative to Traditional College Education in the US

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