Using interests to prepare for academics, career and community connections

Preparing our students for continued education, a career or to be respectable individuals in their community is a topic frequently discussed in my classroom. As a junior high Spanish teacher, I often address the question, “Why do I have to learn Spanish?” The answer, you don’t. But, think about this…when applying to a competitive university or trade school where most applicants have the same grade, but you have at least two levels of a foreign language and someone else doesn’t. You stand out. You prove to be an individual who has developed communication skills. Or you are joining the workforce and your customers are Spanish-speaking, you have some skills to prepare you for this. Or you are in your community and you see someone pulled over having car problems, and discover they are Spanish-speaking, or you are volunteering at the local food bank and a family comes in only speaking a foreign language, these situations require you to use the skills you developed in your language class and encourage you to communicate in order to help others.

Just this week, my 8th grade students had to present oral presentations (from memory) about their futures. Their first reaction was, “Whoa, we are going to be 18 or 19!” Scary, right? Most of their plans included attending college, getting a job, buying a car AND I WAS SHOCKED…but, also included in the majority of presentations was understanding a second language. We reflected after all of the presentations and a lot of them shared that they want to understand a second language to advance themselves in continued education or a career. But, another observation from me was the realization that so many of them were terrified to speak in front of their peers. So, we started the conversation about our interests and our levels of preparedness.

After reading about Youth Radio and listening to Asha Richardson, it’s exciting to see a young girl able to put all of her interests into action and bring her success. Her interests, which are very different from one another, are actually able to develop and be combined in a way that allows her to share her passion in storytelling. Becoming a member of youth radio has allowed her to develop networking skills. Her experiences are hands-on. All members developing an app contribute different skills and they learn from one another. She has met mentors, who have aided her along her journey, and now she is serving a mentor and role model to other young girls wanting to put their interests into play and create! I’m looking forward to sharing Asha’s story with my own students!

“Learners flourish and realize their potential when they can connect their interests and social engagement to academic studies, civic engagement, and career opportunity” (Ito et al. 2013:8)

Ito’s thoughts above led me to want to create an app called, InterestME. The following questions guided me toward this idea:

  1. How can we help students clarify interests, abilities and values?
  2. How can we encourage students to utilize their interests to exemplify empowerment and help others?
  3. How do we get students more involved to better prepare themselves for academic settings, a career or their community?

So, what does InterestME look like? InterestME would serve as an online communication tool that allows students and other community members to use their interests to help others on a volunteer basis. It would be an app accessible to members in specific communities. What do I mean? Similar to a Craig’s List, meaning searches are available in specific cities, as well as similar to an online yard sale site, members will have access to joining interest-driven networks. The app would be available within individual school districts for safety. So, students are helping and looking for help in their school district only. For example, InterestME, will have networks like math, science, English, world language, childcare, automotive, landscaping, etc. Students can join 1 or some of these networks, depending upon their interests. When someone posts that they are seeking help with Algebra 1 homework or need help changing a windshield wiper blade on their car or the community food bank needs extra help or an individual is wanting more practice batting and pitching, an alert would go out to those willing to volunteer in that specific network and they can respond and help that individual. This app is intended to for use by students in grade 7 and above. Students will be able to use their interests in a meaningful and productive way, while gaining networking and communication skills.

The guidelines allow a user seeking help, in academics, career or in the community, to post what they need and then a member of that specific interest has the opportunity to volunteer their help. The intent is for students to utilize their interests, while helping others, and discover the possibilities their interests can bring.

An app like InterestME, would be successful in the community and district I teach in because all students, in grades 7-12, have a school-issued iPad. And, I would say 90% of my 200 students have a smart phone. Based on my observations this week in my classes, this app would help them face their fears of talking in front of others, allow them to help in ways that interest them and provide a level of comfort and confidence as well as provide them with real-world, hands-on experience!

Interview 3: User research. 3 individuals provided me with feedback to the 3 questions mentioned above.

Interviewee 1: Assistant Principal grades 7-12

Mr. P provided me with information about some course requirements in our district. There is a course required, Futures, of all students in 8th grade. Here they take several personality and career assessments that provide them with results based on their interests. He mentions how much our students love technology. Their eyes and hands are always on their school provided and personal devices. He thinks that we can encourage them to use their interests towards empowerment if technology is meaningful. Now, with flipped classrooms, podcasts, skype and other resources, they can learn more about their interests and see what their peers around the world, with the same interests, are doing. Every year our district has a huge event for the community, modelling what students in the district are doing. Mr. P says we need to get more students involved. By having more students show their work at this event, it would then lead them to meeting community members who are working in their area of interests and give them the chance to communicate with these members.

Interviewee 2: Pennsylvania Army National Guard Recruiter

SFC K informed me about the SASVAB Career Exploration Program. The test itself is an 8 series test. It goes above and beyond what the SATs provide. Students are tested on areas in math, verbal, science and technical skills, allowing students to test their knowledge on careers in the outside world. Once the test is completed and scored, the students will take an interest-finder, based on John Holland’s personality traits and career finder codes. Students are able to search for careers based on their personality types and SASVAB score. He also mentioned what guidance counselors in the districts can provide for our students. He thinks that providing opportunity to apply their skill set is the best form of motivation. And then from there, showing recognition and rewarding them will motivate and encourage them to continue to use their interests to pursue their future goals. One way to get them more involved in the preparation process is to provide work release, where they leave school after their core subjects and work or volunteer in their interest-driven setting.

Interviewee(s) 3: Some of my students 🙂

I have to say..they actually really like the idea of this app! But, it wasn’t until I explained the app, which came after the questioning process. When I asked them question 1, how can we help them clarify their interests, they responded with the career aptitude test that they take in their futures class. But, then a student contributed something more meaningful. Back in November, we had a career day at school. All 7th and 8th grade students had the opportunity to visit 5 different individuals in different careers. They thought that this was a great way to explore their interests and want to see this become a traditional experience in the junior high. My students are always seeking for rewards. They want to be rewarded for their effort and their work. They have the drive to use their interests in areas like sports, science and art to empower themselves and others, but want rewards. So, while the app is on a volunteer basis, they thought extra credit in the classroom could be given when they show their teacher that they are active participants on the app. I am okay with that idea! 😉 And finally, they shared that they want to know their community more. They want to communicate with others who are already continuing or have continued education after high school and those who have pursued jobs in their area of interest. So, it’s time to provide this experience!



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