ROCKLAND — Molly Staples coordinates the new Extended Learning Opportunities program at Oceanside High School. She finds professionals in the community who will answer student questions or allow job shadowing for one hour or more in the shared interest field. In the classroom, she teaches practical and confidence building skills in relation to seeking future jobs.
Thanks to the ELO program, now completing its first year of a two-year grant award, one girl was able to experience some of the rigors involved with becoming a police officer – taking the entrance fitness test, asking questions about the procedure to become an officer, hearing about the mental toll of the profession from a retiree. Through the program, she was also sent to North East Mobile Health Services for a sampling of basic emergency training. She thought before that her only interest was the Criminal Justice Academy. Now she’s adding EMS as secondary option.
One student watched a training with New Hope. Another student got up close to the mechanics of a plane propeller owned by Penobscot Island Air. One helped with Finding Our Voices. Another volunteered at Pope Memorial Humane Society. Another attended an After-Hours event hosted by the Pen Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Though the class is open to all, Staples wants to target those who might struggle to find a sense of belonging, or those who might have a barrier to their education, and students who don’t have a clear pathway. A student may have social anxiety. Some might not have a support system, or a person to teach them how to be on time, or how to write an email.
That’s where Staples steps in. Sometimes, in the mornings, she parks herself near the front office of the high school.
“Any student that is having a hard time coming to school on time, or maybe has visited the office a couple times for whatever reason, I’m like, ‘hey, can I have that student?’ she said. “I meet them where they are at and then help guide them through all of the nuances of things they run into as they are navigating this path.”
All of those students are completely worthy of having an incredible experience, she said.
But first, Staples needs to determine the teens’ interests, and in this first year of the program, that mystery is as much a struggle for her as it is for the teens.
After Staples asked one student why she was no longer interested in a subject she’d declared the week before, Staples got an earful. The student said that the question “What are you interested in?” is not the right question.
The better question, according to the student, is: “It’s Pandemic 2.0. The world is burning, and everything is ending. You’re on your balcony looking out and thinking ‘what do I wish I had done differently in the past 10 years?’”
The teens in the room then answered. The art teacher suddenly wanted to be a veterinarian. The dental hygienist wished she had spent more time on the water. Another student regretted not spending more time with friends and family. The very next week, the class started over. The semester’s curriculum was scrapped and reignited fresh, though other hurdles continue to surface.
After realizing that another student missed two meetings with her professional experience because of a diminished interest in the requested career field, Staples needed to produce a curriculum response. Along with teaching the students how to send Zoom invites, hand-write thank-you notes, fill out envelopes, and speak confidently to strangers, Staples now adds instructions on how to graciously bow out of a job shadow or meeting request.
One boy entered the program determined to be a dietitian. He was set on it, until his first meeting with a real dietitian. After that, he returned to class and told Staples to cancel all future meetings for him regarding that profession. In his brief experience with the real deal, he learned that the profession was not for him.
“What an incredible opportunity for this student,” she said. “He didn’t need to go to a doctor’s office or go around with a dietitian at Pen Bay [Medical Center] for 40 hours. He needed one meeting with one person.”
By canceling, he saved from future tuition bills, and in the present semester, he saved himself and his coordinator from time misspent on the wrong path as he struggles to find his place in the work industry.
The ELO exposures are practical and varied, and narrowed down to specifics. A student might visit a doctor’s office and learn about medical transcription. One student interested in drop shipping met over Zoom with a person who lives in Italy. The interactions with the professionals are all student initiated. The teens are able to say what they want to do or who they want to meet. Because of this, the hours vary, the number of experiences vary, the quality varies. Still, in order to acquire those professional experiences, the teens need the basic skills, taught by an accommodating community.
“One of the things that I’m realizing is how much hard work it is for them to write an email,” she said. “They are asking me how many sentences does this need to be.”
Earlier in the day that Staples shared her presentation with Rockland City Council, a student was scheduled to meet the City Manager, Tom Luttrell, but cancelled. Staples now urges professionals to recognize that these are students who are learning a lot about interacting with adults, especially those who have just come out of a pandemic.
Simultaneously, Staples hopes to strengthen her curriculum by posing a question to community businesses: what do you think students should know? When you are hiring, or meeting a co-worker, what do you think they should be able to do that they might not be able to do?
“A student emailing you and saying ‘thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Here’s the Zoom link,’ then setting up the Zoom. Then meeting you, and then unpacking – that’s a whole bunch of skills,” said Staples. “All of those skills come back into the community.”
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