DA op-ed: Ready for the future

Help middle school students explore innovative career pathways—before it’s too late
By: | July 15, 2019

Karen M. Crebase is the superintendent of schools for Hopedale, Massachusetts.

There are some interesting myths about middle school students. As a superintendent, I hear them all the time:

  • Middle school kids think they know everything.
  • Middle school kids just don’t like school.
  • We’ll never get middle school kids engaged in learning.

But I see the light in their eyes—the light that shines when they are so engaged in learning and excited about hands-on fun in the classroom, that they forget, if just for a moment, about being “cool.”

My desire to positively impact impressionable middle school students aligns with the mission of American Student Assistance (ASA). From my first meeting with ASA staff, I knew it was a perfect match.

Officials at Hopedale Public Schools in Massachusetts were looking to develop a middle school computer science pathway, and ASA was looking to offer grant opportunities. Our partnership has paved the way for innovative learning experiences for students.

Making informed decisions

With ASA’s support, we have been able to offer high-quality STEAM programs to our seventh- and eighth-grade students. Each of our middle school students has been involved in algorithm design, coding and robotics projects.

We believe these experiences will help students make informed decisions when considering new high school computer science courses and future careers.

Our students are developing strong relationships with business community members. We believe these connections will help our students get jobs right out of high school and/or college

According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development in Massachusetts, “software developers, applications” is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the state with 7,500 new jobs expected between 2016 and 2026.

With more than 2,500 unfilled positions in this area and a nearly 26% growth rate of available jobs in the state, I believe we are positioning our students for success in the business community of Blackstone Valley and all of Massachusetts.

Forming a computer science pathway

An article in a recent issue of Hechinger Report, notes: “In fact, while a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening, even as the price—and the average debt into which it plunges students—keeps going up.”

I believe that by offering our students a computer science pathway throughout their middle and high school years, we are setting up a great opportunity for Hopedale students. Many will pursue a bachelor’s degree, with some focusing on computer science; other students will be prepared to enter the Blackstone Valley business community, where there will be plenty of jobs available.

At the same time that we are developing these new and innovative course pathways for our students, we are expanding opportunities for internships and capstone projects. Our students are developing strong relationships with business community members this way. Last year, we had 34 connections in the Blackstone Valley for internships and 45 students who completed capstone projects.

We believe these connections will help our students get jobs right out of high school and/or college. With “market research analysts and marketing specialists” jobs increasing by 20% and “computer numerically controlled machine tool” jobs growing by 15% in Massachusetts, it is important for us to provide STEAM instruction.

Taking risks

Within just one year, it is wonderful to see how excited students are about the computer science pathway. Kids are trying out the robots and automobiles they have designed, built and programmed.

I see our kids collaborating to work out complex problems; I see teachers releasing responsibility of problem-solving to our children; and I see kids taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes.

The results of our first year of implementation for our seventh- and eighth-grade computer science classes have been significant. Sixty-five percent of our students were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the experience, and it is exceptional for middle school students to admit to being satisfied with a class.

After taking the class, 42% said, “I now have an interest in careers that involve science and technology,” and 43% said, “I now have an interest in careers that involve computer science.”

Prior to 2017, there was no in-school opportunity to experience a computer science pathway, despite Hopedale having higher-than-average technical services employers and growth in computer and mathematical occupations in Massachusetts. To provide students in middle school with a chance to explore computer science is a benefit—even if they don’t want to pursue it as a career.


Read: Preparing Students for a Strong Future


 

In our survey,23% of students said, “While I enjoyed the class, it helped me understand that I would not want to pursue this subject as a career.” This knowledge is just as critical as finding the right career path.

This is just the beginning. We believe that our relationship with ASA will continue for many years. We have already accomplished so much in year one, and we are certain we will continue to build our program and offerings together.

Our collaboration with ASA is an exceptional example of how the support of local business can positively impact our schools, and may positively impact our college and business communities in the future.

Karen M. Crebase is the superintendent of schools for Hopedale, Massachusetts.