By Liz Williams, Senior Program Manager, Career Academies and Afiya Ward
This has been a year unlike any other. Many students in Minnesota ended their high school career from behind a computer screen last spring and began in a virtual environment again this fall.
Earlier this summer, Greater Twin Cities United Way’s innovative Career Academies initiative granted $100,000 to four partner school districts across the Twin Cities metro to fill gaps in student wages and work experiences caused by the pandemic. Since then we’ve learned that our district partners are among the few programs in the country that continued to run in a remote environment.
With the support of these funds, our partners were able to provide competitive wages to the students who participated – many of whom would not have had the opportunity for paid work over the summer. Because of the Career Academies Summer Stabilization Fund, over 75 students had the opportunity to obtain career-aligned certifications, career and college guidance, and maintain meaningful and supportive connections with adults in their school districts.
Supporting Students Like Afiya
One such student and recent graduate from St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is Afiya Ward. Afiya participated in SPPS’s “Earn as You Learn” program, supported by United Way. Through this program, Afiya earned her Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) certification, which she is eager to use as she begins college at Florida A&M University to study agribusiness and community health.
According to Afiya, the most beneficial part of this program was connecting to program coordinator Hannah Chan. “The greatest thing about it was connecting to Ms. Chan, who has been an incredible resource for me over the past couple of months. She has introduced me to internship opportunities and ways I can earn money to help pay for college, and she has actually been an advisor to me as I’m getting ready to leave for college.”
The Career Academies program is focused on supporting high-quality, career-focused opportunities for students that are aligned with their academic coursework, even during a pandemic. This requires a coordinated initiative between employers and school districts to ensure continuity between what a student learns in school and what they can expect in college and the workforce.
Afiya offered her thoughts on how those looking to get involved might support Career Academies or similar initiatives:
“Encourage your company or organization to offer internship and training programs, and make the case for how these programs can actually benefit your company and the economy as a whole. Offer to connect young people to folks you know in industries and careers they’re interested in. Spend time mentoring students, asking them what kind of support they need (whether that’s emotional, monetary, etc.) and helping them find that support. Lastly, when you see an opportunity that could benefit young people, broadcast it! Make sure ALL of the young people you know are aware of the opportunity. That way, as these opportunities become more widely utilized, the demand and need for them becomes more clear – and hopefully, that leads to more opportunities being available.”
Is your company or organization interested in supporting students with internships and other professional experiences? If so, contact organizations such as The BrandLab, Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth, Genesys Works, Gen Z Connection, MN Trades Academy, Right Track, Step Up or YMCA. If you’re outside the metro, consider contacting your local chamber of commerce and their business education network.