Employers and educators brainstorm ideas for work-based learning experiences

Educators and employers met at the Consortium in late October to see how they might work together to provide students with work-based learning experiences.

Work-based learning experiences are among three industry-based learning indicators that the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) accepts as evidence students are meeting an important standard for college and career readiness by the time they graduate.

“It’s more than a check-off,” Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn noted as she briefed attendees on seven state-recognized options for creating work-based learning experiences. “While these are state requirements, it can be so meaningful for students to work with businesses while they’re still in school because it can really have an impact on how they plan their next steps after graduation.”

Schools are facing the new standards, which came into effect last year, just as employers are beginning to feel the pinch of a tight labor market.

The confluence of interests is beginning to inspire partnerships that help students achieve the standards while also acquainting them with the kinds of jobs employers are trying to fill and helping them develop important workplace skills.

For example, Greensburg Salem School District worked with the German American Chamber of Commerce this year to launch a pre-apprenticeship program in partnership with Leybold USA, an affiliate of Germany’s Leybold GmbH.

Leybold’s end goal is creating a pipeline for sales engineers. The pre-apprenticeship is the first step, but interested students can follow a pathway into a full-fledged apprenticeship and ultimately obtain two or four-year degrees as Leybold employees.

Clairton City School District and Kurt J. Lesker Co. have partnered in multiple ways, said Guidance Counselor Maureen Shaw. Among qualifying work-based learning experiences, the company has offered job-shadows.

Lesker also has offered workplace exposures that don’t meet the state’s criteria for work-based learning experiences, but still give students other career learning opportunities that the Pennsylvania Department of Education sets.

All of them help students learn about employment, Shaw noted, adding that some, like the mock-interview opportunities Lesker gives students, help generate artifacts for their portfolios. Artifact is a term the state uses for documentation of a necessary career learning activity.

Business representatives said they found discussions with educators important to moving forward with their own partnership ideas. Among other reasons, some said they came away with a better understanding of state standards and use the information to tailor their outreach programs to meet school needs.



FedEx Ground opens its doors to Educator in the Workforce

For Natalie Grattan, a Social Studies teacher at Baldwin Whitehall High School who’s involved in shaping a career learning course, a visit to FedEx Ground provided some needed talking points.

“After coming here today, we have more concrete things we can say” to combat the “traditional mentality that everybody has to go to college,” she said during a debriefing at the kickoff session for our Educator in the Workforce program. “We learned about people from all different backgrounds, some who started out of high school and became managers.”

Along with presentations during the site visit, FedEx used a “speed networking” session to connect teachers, counselors and administrators with representatives from eight different departments to learn about the kinds of jobs they offer. A tour of the company’s Moon Township headquarters, which, alone employs 2,000, also gave participants a glimpse of additional departments.

Like Grattan, other participants generally expressed surprise at the number of positions available without degrees, FedEx Ground’s policy of promoting even entry-level hires, and the availability of tuition support for employees seeking college degrees.

Providing opportunities for “cross training” and advancement “is something we really pride ourselves in,” said the company’s Vice President for Human Resources, Denise Abbott, noting that an employee starting at the entry level, as a package handler, can be promoted to a front-line operations manager, for example. She said FedEx also has taken the tuition support it offers a step further than many employers, providing the benefit as soon as employees enroll in a course, rather than upon completion. “

“It’s a game-changer,” Abbott said, noting that many entry-level employees can’t front the money themselves.

The visit also gave educators and FedEx Ground representatives an opportunity to exchange ideas for future collaboration.

Noting that his district already has “work study” arrangements with FedEx Ground competitor, United Parcel Service, Yough High School Principal Brian Sutherland suggested, for example, that FedEx Ground’s New Stanton, PA facility might serve as a venue for students who want to gain work experience while still in school.

Several educators also said FedEx could help their students with job-shadows or classroom speakers. FedEx representatives entertained the ideas and signaled interest in partnerships.

Following FedEx, the Consortium plans an additional 13 site visits for participants in Educator in the Workforce during the current school year.



















Consortium workshop helps five districts improve student planning

Educators from five districts came together at the Consortium in October for the first of two workshops focused on ways to improve students’ post-secondary planning.

Under state standards, all students must create plans in the eighth grade. But educators attending the workshop want to make sure the plans not only are living documents, but also that they’re serving their purpose and helping students achieve all the standards the state sets for career and workforce education.

Clairton City School District, for example, “wanted to see if our individualized career plan is what it should be,” said Nicolette Bendick, a Guidance Counselor from Clairton City School District. “Is it good? Should we be doing more experiential things or getting students to reflect more?”

With a somewhat different agenda, South Allegheny School District was trying to come up with better ways to help “students in the middle” who often don’t get as much attention as those who are gifted or have special needs, said Kristy Roche, a South Allegheny School District Guidance Counselor.

In addition to Clairton City and South Allegheny, participating districts included Baldwin Whitehall, Greensburg Salem, and Woodland Hills. Remake Learning provided support for the workshop with one of its $1,000 Ignite Grants.

As the basis for presentations and discussions, Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn, PhD, who organized the workshop, drew on V. Scott Solberg’s book, The Handbook of Career & Workforce Development.

A key premise, both for the book and workshop, is that student planning isn’t so much about much planning per se as it is about engagement. Once they’ve thought about their interests and tried to envision the future around them, students are much more motivated to identify and pursue the steps they need to take to achieve their goals, said Solberg, a Boston University Professor who joined the workshop via video-conferencing.

“Student planning is really about positive youth development,” he said.












Future Ready Alliance kicks off with session on social and emotional learning

Schools across the country have been finding that mindfulness and meditation can help educators more easily cope with classroom stresses and help kids better handle the anxieties and struggles of adolescence.

So when Stephanie Romero saw that the practices hadn’t gained enough traction in the Pittsburgh region, she founded Awaken Pittsburgh. The nonprofit provides mindfulness and meditation training for schools and other clients.

A former classroom teacher whose doctoral dissertation focused on mindfulness, Romero brought tips for using meditation to teams in our Future Ready Alliance in early October when she keynoted their first meeting of the 2019-2020 school year.

By activating the calming, parasympathetic responses of the human nervous system, practicing meditation has been found to help educators expand empathy, reduce burnout and increase job satisfaction.

Among benefits for students, it enhances self-regulation, decreases aggressive behavior and reduces anxiety, Romero said.

“Even for students with ADHD, meditation increases attention,” she added.

Romero said that educators practicing meditation are able to improve their classroom environments by modeling better interactions. Getting students into the practice helps improve their social and emotional competence.

“Social and emotional development is critical to helping students become future ready, which is what our teams are working on” said Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn, PhD, who helps organize the Alliance. “It’s at the heart of so many of the soft skills students need for success in post-secondary education and careers. It has bearing on adaptability, communications, teamwork, self-discipline—you name it.”

Teams from 18 districts are participating in the Alliance this year. All will be working on projects aimed at helping students achieve the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s standards for career learning and future readiness.

As is typical, the projects teams are planning range widely—from Operation Outreach in South Park School District, which wants to enlist more community partners to enhance career learning for students in 5th-8th grades; to Digital Freshmen in McKeesport Area School District, which is aiming to support 9th graders with web-based career readiness portfolios.




Corporate partners recognized for work with students and schools

Three of the Consortium’s corporate partners were among those honored earlier this month at celebratED, an event The Grable Foundation hosted to bring recognition to educators and others creating innovative learning opportunities for youth in our region. Honored for their work were Covestro, Mascaro Construction Co. and PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

“We congratulate these companies for their contributions and commend their understanding that school-business partnerships play a vital role in our region’s overall workforce development,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director, Mary Kay Babyak. “All of them are helping to bridge the divide between schools and the workforce.” “These companies recognize the current and future talent in our diverse communities and are opening multiple career pathways for students. They all have been wonderful partners and we can’t thank them enough for the time and resources they’ve dedicated to improving career learning and opportunities.” Specifically, honors went to:

  • Covestro – for enriching STEM learning opportunities and engaging youth in Youthquake 2030 to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their communities;
  • Mascaro Construction — for helping students find rewarding career paths in its industry and equipping educators with the knowledge needed to guide them;
  • PNC Financial — for taking pre-employment training directly into high schools and helping students learn about jobs that don’t necessarily require degrees to build career paths with opportunities for advancement.

Covestro event kicked off sustainability projects for Student Powered Solutions teams in 13 schools

Less than two weeks after attending Covestro’s Youthquake2030, teachers from 13 schools said students were excited about beginning Project-Based Learning (PBL) assignments pegged to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“I’ve got to run just to keep up with mine,” said Sue Mellon, Allegheny Valley School District’s Gifted Support Coordinator during a PBL training session for teachers who brought teams of students to the event.

In collaboration with the Consortium, Covestro hosted Youthquake2030 in mid-September to engage students in thinking about how to advance the SDGs in their communities. It was among a series of events that Covestro has organized since launching Thinc30, a corporate initiative aimed at improving sustainability in locations where it has offices and other facilities.

From Covestro’s perspective, bringing youth into those discussions is critical, said Rebecca Lucore, the head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility. “We want to tap that fresh thinking and show the students that, as the next generation of sustainability stewards, they can not only have an impact, but as citizens, it’s their responsibility.”

From the Consortium’s standpoint, “Youthquake not only gave students a wonderful opportunity to think about sustainability, it also exemplified the kind of school-business partnership that can give students the real-world exposure they need as they seek paths and purpose beyond high school,” said Jackie Foor, Director of Organizational Development.

Youthquake2030 took on relevance for students, coming a week before Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s address to delegates at the UN’s Climate Impact Summit in New York. The talk touched off demonstrations at schools across the country.

Some 100+ students from 13 schools attended Youthquake2030 where they learned about the SDGs from local entrepreneurs and academics involved in sustainability and videos featuring young people around the world who are pursuing sustainability projects and advocacy.

During roundtable discussions, Youthquake2030 also gave students a chance to brainstorm with peers from other schools. They dove into the talks, adding perspectives that they brought from districts ranging from urban to suburban and rural.

For example, Aneesha, a City Charter School student at one roundtable, thought the region could cut its carbon footprint by improving public transit and working to break down what she perceived as a “stigma” associated with riding buses.

At the other end of the spectrum, Alli, a Greensburg Salem student whose family owns a farm, said she thought multiple SDGs—from ending hunger to conserving water with reduced runoff—could be advanced by expanding community gardening.

“Through agriculture, you can connect to almost of the goals,” she said.

At their PBL training session later in the month, teachers said certain Youthquake2030 presenters had planted seeds for possible projects.

A couple of teams, for example, were intrigued by the founder of Fifth Season, a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff that’s creating an indoor, robotic farm in Braddock. But like others, they weren’t yet settled on a project.

Our Student Powered Solutions program, which pairs classrooms with companies willing to pose real- world challenges for PBL, will support teams as the projects unfold through the fall.  Teams will present to Covestro at the end of the semester.






Thinc30 Youthquake aims to bring youthful thinking and energy to regional sustainability issues

Even before school began, nearly a dozen districts already were gearing up to participate in Youthquake, an event Covestro is hosting to engage students in improving sustainability in the region.

Educators from participating the districts gathered at the Consortium in August for training sessions in Project-Based Learning, the teaching method they’ll use as teams of their students identify and tackle sustainability challenges in western Pennsylvania’s communities.

Youthquake takes place September 17th at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.  It is one of a series of events Covestro has organized as part of its Thinc30 initiative to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in our region. Thinc30 is shorthand for “transforming, harnessing, innovating, navigating and collaborating for a purpose-driven, sustainable future by 2030.”

The Consortium has assisted with recruitment and preparation..

At Youthquake, student teams will learn about the UN’s 17 SDGs and exchange ideas about ways in which our communities may be falling short of them and how

At their schools, the teams will identify the particular challenges they’d like to address with PBL over the course of their fall semester.

Districts and schools that so far have confirmed plans to participate are: Allegheny Valley, Beaver Area, Blackhawk, Butler Area, Carlynton, City Charter, Greensburg Salem, Imani Christian Academy, Laurel Highlands and Woodland Hills.





Rachel’s Challenge presents professional development session in social and emotional learning


Teachers can measurably improve student behavior and interaction by establishing connections—both between themselves and their students and between the students themselves, the founder of Rachel’s Challenge told more than 700 educators gathered in August for a professional development session on social and emotional learning. by Intermediate Unit 1 and the Consortium co-hosted the session.

Darrell Scott, who launched the initiative to honor his daughter Rachel, a victim of the Columbine, Colorado. school shootings, said the simple act of greeting kids by name at the classroom door and exchanging a few words can alone improve behavior, as can other protocols advocated through Rachel’s Challenge.

As part of his presentation, Scott relayed the uncanny ways in which his daughter may have foreseen her untimely death and the anxious sense she exhibited about leaving a mark on the world. In extensive diaries and essays, she wrote that her life would have an impact that would arise from acts of kindness that ripple forward in a chain reaction. Among them, she stood up for a physically and mentally challenged young man who had been bullied at school and made friends with a young woman who otherwise would have suffered the isolation that often comes from moving to a new school and having difficulty making friends.

Her father not only has made a life’s mission of relaying his daughter’s story, he has tried to fulfill her prophecy by bringing her message to schools around the world and developing evidence-based ways of helping educators change school cultures.

Scott said one of the most important ways to avert bullying and other unkindness is to cultivate an atmosphere of empathy, noting that can only be accomplished when students begin relating personally to teachers and classmates and with deeper understanding.

Along with simple greetings at the classroom door, Scott encouraged educators to share bits of personal information throughout the school year and to create formal opportunities for students to share information about themselves with classmates they might not know. The exchanges humanize participants and make it all but impossible to treat them in hurtful ways, he said.

In a survey of nearly 10,000, students in schools undertaking measures recommended through Rachel’s Challenge reported a 145% increase in participation in school activities; a 123% increase in interventions to stop bullying; a 37% increase in the number who would not bully; a 117% increase in those reaching out to other students; and a 282% increase in those feeling a greater sense of school safety.




Consortium to help six districts develop post-secondary planning strategies

A half dozen districts will work with the Consortium in the upcoming school year to ensure they’re helping students make the most of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s mandate to develop post-secondary education and career plans.

Under state standards, students must develop their plans in the 8th grade. The plans are intended to be reference points as students assemble artifacts documenting steps taken from 8th grade until senior year to explore and prepare for post-secondary education and careers.

But because students in the 8th grade often still have only an inkling of what they might like to do, there’s a real need to make the plans “living documents” that kids can change as their interests develop or change, said Consortium Program Director Christy Kuehn.

Participating districts will draw on ideas from the The Handbook of Career and Workforce Development–Research, Policy & Practice, as they develop strategies to keep their students engaged in a process for post-secondary education and career planning.

The author, V. Scott Solberg, PhD., is Associate Dean of Research at Boston University (BU) and Principal Investigator at the Massachusetts Institute for College & Career Readiness. A leader in the field of post-secondary preparation, he spoke last year at two workshops the Consortium hosted in partnership with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory (REL).

The Consortium’s work with participating districts is being funded with a $1,000 Ignite Grant from Remake Learning. Under the grant, participating districts will come together to organize their work at a kick off session, then reconvene twice for collaboration and professional development.

Educators from second training session report out on experience with Human-Centered Design

As seven teams of educators debriefed in May, they seemed to exude a sense of discovery about using Human-Centered Design (HCD).  Some were surprised to find the process made it so easy to elicit input from peers. Others found HCD helped them see “the big picture.”

Virtually all said they found the process inherently inclusive. And one noticed that the inclusiveness “built confidence” in participants, while another said he found it “amazing to see how efficiently and collaboratively people worked using such a low-tech tool.”

The teams all were winding up projects they began in the spring after participating in Expanding Innovation 2.0, an HCD training program that the Consortium offered in partnership with LUMA Institute.

HCD is an activities-based approach to problem-solving that focuses on people above other factors, whether the challenge is making a better product, as is often the case in industry, or identifying and executing changes that schools want or need to make.

The Grable Foundation funded our partnership with LUMA to make HCD methods available to educators in the region.

Educators involved in the Spring HCD training represented Duquesne City,
Greensburg Salem, Riverview and Yough school districts and Greater Latrobe School District’s Mountainview Elementary School, Manchester Academic Charter School and Pittsburgh Brashear High School.

The projects they undertook varied widely—from identifying better uses for spaces in their school building at Pittsburgh Brashear and rewriting Riverview School District’s 7th grade STEAM curriculum to finding ways to combat the drug epidemic in Yough School District.

Another seven districts had debriefed on projects at a January poster presentation after taking our inaugural HCD training last fall.

We began an occasional series of Case Stories describing a sampling of these projects in the last edition of our newsletter. Watch for more in upcoming editions. And, if your district or school would like to enroll a team of its educators in an upcoming HCD training session, please contact our Executive Director, Mary Kay Babyak or our Director of Organizational Advancement, Jackie Foor at 412-678-9215.