How does a school close the gap between what students learn in school and what they need in the real world?
At Central Valley CSD, we have many programs that introduce students to possible careers. We work with the Herkimer BOCES School-to-Career program to offer career days, visits to local businesses, and job shadowing. Our guidance staff conducts interest surveys to match students with potential education and career paths. Our Freshman Seminar includes career and life skills lessons. All of this helps, but it is not enough.
Imagine if our students could learn about careers directly from successful people in The Valley and beyond. Imagine not limiting that interaction to a dry pamphlet or PowerPoint. What if we could surround students with the sights and sounds of a workplace? What if they could meet the people who do the job every day?
Enter Ilion ’02 graduate Mike Baron. After high school, Baron went on to college and to a successful career as a civil engineer. Despite his many accomplishments, he wanted something more. He wanted to give back to his hometown. He shared his desire with Dan O’Sullivan, a consultant with broad experience in business startups. Together, they proposed building a searchable, online library of videos where teachers and students could learn about careers from working, successful Baby Boomers.
They envisioned honest, down-to-earth conversations with people with lengthy histories in manufacturing, construction, and engineering. The stories would give students a sense of the skills and classes needed for different careers. Because the videos would be online, “visits” would not be limited to a specific career day or intern experience. A student could watch at any time without ever leaving home or school. He even imagined virtual reality tours of factory or construction sites.
They knew they would need other professionals to help move their idea from concept to reality. Looking around The Valley, Mike found local talent. He reconnected with Ilion classmate Matt Williams an IT professional. He also added video editor Lisa Baron. With a team in place, they applied for and received a grant from New York’s Workforce Development Institute to launch The Expertise Project (EP).
Baron approached his former teacher, high school volleyball and soccer coach, and now Central Valley superintendent, Jeremy Rich. Baron pitched EP’s Mohawk Valley Pilot Project. The plan would be for EP to train a group of CVA students as interviewers/videographers. Those students, with a teacher and an EP support person, would visit Mohawk Valley businesses. They would record each tour and interview. Area professionals would edit the footage into the final product and upload them to a digital library.
Superintendent Rich immediately recognized the potential in the plan. After months of planning, the project is nearing its launch. CVA principal Dick Keeler is busy recruiting students. EP is choosing area businesses to interview.
Rich said he is excited to work with EP for several reasons. First, CVA students will build real experience videoing and interviewing. They will learn the ins and outs of capturing what they see. They will learn to ask questions that allow the subject to tell the story. They will also interact with adults in a professional setting, something that seldom happens at the high school level.
Second, the videos will help students see that career options exist with and without college.
“We do a good job showing students the importance of getting a good education,” he said.
“We have to do a better job showing that our region has great career opportunities for students who may not be interested in going on for another two or four years. We need skilled people who can work with their hands and their minds.”
While the benefits to CVA students are obvious, Rich sees the Mohawk Valley Pilot Project as good for participating businesses.
“The businesses will get great exposure,” he said.
“People will learn about the things these businesses do and the role they play in our local economy. The videos offer businesses increased visibility, helping them advertise and fill open positions.”
The pilot will also target the existing school-to-career programs offered through Herkimer BOCES. Similar to the industry videos, the BOCES videos will expose a greater number of students to BOCES’ offerings and attract more students.
“EP will be a true partnership, not just another new program or initiative,” said Rich.
“It begins with students, helping them learn new skills and understand the opportunities available in this region. It builds a strong connection between the area’s educators and professionals. It ensures we will have a prepared workforce capable of returning our region to economic prosperity.”