Middle school students and their mentors reflect on year of growth

At the closing sessions of our Be A Middle School Mentor (BAMSM) program last month, students and counselors alike recounted a year of learning, fun, and growth

Sharing reflections at Woodland Hills Intermediate School, for example, one student said there was no doubt in his mind that the program changed him.

“Mentoring was a major, major, major contributor to the person I am now,” D’Marcus told his peers and mentors. “I had major anger issues when we started… But this helped me with being able to be myself.”

For Vann Williams, a Senior Manager of Wabtec Corp’s Information Technology Service Desk that’s what makes volunteering as a mentor meaningful. “I love seeing the growth of the mentees, how they’re changing from the beginning of the program to the end.”

In partnership with United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the Consortium offers Be A Middle School Mentor in three districts—Clairton, McKeesport Area and Woodland Hills.

The program is intended to support students in understanding the importance of their schooling, thinking about the future and in growing socially and emotionally. The Consortium structures its sessions so that the students get the benefit of working with peers and mentors in groups as well as opportunities to work with individual mentors.

Group activities often take the form of games and typically aim at helping students develop social and emotional skills such as communication and collaboration that are important to future success. Among the most popular during the 2019-2020 school year was a Survival Challenge, where kids worked individually and in teams to identify the 10 most important things they’d need to take from a ship to survive on a deserted island.

“It was kind of thing where you could see them learning to think critically, communicate and solve interpersonal challenges that come with working in teams,” said Frank Kamara, a Consortium Program Associate who organizes BAMSM along with Program Director Gina Barrett.

“We often play games,” said Barrett. “But they’re games that help the students develop skills, while giving them a chance to have fun with each other and with their mentors. The games also are great ice-breakers and help build relationships.”

Other highlights included a mid-year college exploration project, in which students worked both independently and with individual mentors to research colleges they might like to attend. At the end of the year, the three programs all offered opportunities for career and/or college exploration, including a mock “career fair” in McKeesport where mentors shared their own career experience with students in roundtable discussions.

Because the mentors’ shared experience is wide-ranging, career activities can give students opportunities to ask questions and learn about fields ranging from ministry, nursing, and public safety to information technology, teaching, fundraising and counseling, among others.





Educator in the Workforce kicks off with focus on construction industry

The Consortium is kicking off its Educator in the Workforce initiative this year in partnership with Mascaro Construction.  Mascaro and several trade apprenticeship programs will collaborate with us to give educators an opportunity to learn about careers in the building trades and what skills students need to prepare for them. Together, we’ll be offering an immersion experience Monday, October 8 from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 pm at the Carpenters Training Center, 652 Ridge Ave., Pittsburgh, PA. 

The event is the first in a series building on the Educator in the Workforce initiative that we piloted last year in collaboration with three major employers including Mascaro, Duquesne Light Co. and U.S. Steel Corp. All of the immersion experiences are designed to help educators connect their own areas of expertise to employer needs and be able to help students connect their classroom learning to relevant, real world applications.

Attendance is free, but space is limited, so educators interested in the construction event should register soon on our Eventbrite page. Watch the Consortium’s website or sign up for our newsletter to learn about future dates and opportunities to learn about the region’s key industries and employers.

Mascaro is one of the region’s largest commercial construction contractors, with projects ranging from roads and bridges to office towers, power plants and oil and gas field facilities.

Companies in the construction industry and other key sectors already are facing workforce shortages as Baby Boomers retire and are seeking ways to connect with the next generation of prospective employees.

Apprenticeship centers open their doors to kids participating in College & Career Knowledge

The Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, United Association of Plumbers Local 27 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 5 all hosted presentations at their training centers this month for students participating in our latest session of College & Career Knowledge.

College & Career Knowledge organizes learning opportunities for students interested in finding out more about college or looking for alternatives. In both parts of the program, students get to learn from the source. The college sessions afford opportunities to visit campuses and ask questions in breakout groups with faculty, counselors and college students. The apprenticeship sessions take students on site to the training centers, where they explore the facilities and talk with instructors, trainees and experienced tradesmen.

Western Pennsylvania offers an abundance of post-secondary options, with more than 60 colleges and universities, as well as some 17 different trade apprenticeships.

Students visiting the apprenticeship training programs with College & Career Knowledge came from Brownsville Area, Monessen, Pittsburgh Carrick, Pittsburgh Perry, and Steel Valley high schools as well as Lawrence County Career & Technical Center.

The apprenticeships not only are cost-free to their students, they actually pay starting wages and benefits. Becoming a journeyman in one of the crafts usually takes five years, but trainees see their income rise with each year of experience. All of the apprenticeships lead to jobs with incomes well into five figures and some, like the training for electrical workers, also lead to associate’s degrees.

Like others hosting the apprenticeship learning sessions, Tom Nicola who serves as Training Coordinator for the Carpenters’ program told students that job opportunities for tradesmen in western Pennsylvania are expected to be plentiful for the foreseeable future, with a methane cracking plant slated for construction in Beaver County and many other construction projects planned elsewhere across the region. You’re looking at the best work climate I’ve seen in 40 years,” he said.

A sampling of photos of students visiting the three apprenticeship training centers.