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Former English Teacher Chooses Career Choices

"Two words: Common sense."   - John Gill, when asked why JTPA youth benefit from Career Choices


In most JTPA programs, curriculum selection is left to the school site coordinators and instructors. But in Hempstead, New York, First Deputy Commissioner and former college English teacher John Gill did a thorough evaluation of the available materials and made the decision himself: Career Choices and its companion anthology, Possibilities, would be mandatory texts for all 700 youth in his program.

"That's what really sold me on the program," Gill says about Possibilities. Most JTPA youth have not been exposed to good literature in a way that's meaningful to them. Thus these young people have not benefited from the enriching messages." He added, "I found it a good way to introduce those values and those authors."

School site coordinators might have been expected to rebel against this mandate, but Hempstead's Don Ryan claims that wasn't the case. "It was great," he says. "Testing indicated that students either held their own or improved their skills during the summer."

With the variety of youth in Hempstead's program - high school graduates, dropouts, students with learning disabilities, and so on - praise goes to a caring staff that provided a supportive atmosphere for cooperative learning, individualized teaching for those who required it, and supplemental enrichment activities to challenge the more advanced students.

Gill also found the common sense elements of Career Choices appealing. "In my experience as student and worker," he says, "a lot of things weren't really taught as far as establishing a vocation and setting some career goals for yourself. It always seemed when I was in school that counselors were mainly trying to track people into college. There was very little preparation for going out into the world of work."

Impressed by the curriculum's focus on both career and life skills, he thought young people could benefit in ways not usually expected of a summer jobs program. "We were hoping with this program that kids would learn to take the $5.75 an hour they earned through JTPA and not just go out and blow it on video games or whatever."


Things worked out well in Hempstead, but this experience raises important questions, such as:

1. Who should choose the classroom materials for academic enrichment?

Administrators may be inclined to let the instructors do this, and in some cases, this is the best route to take. But not always.

What's right for you? Consider who is best acquainted with the needs of the young people who will be enrolled in your program. If the staff does not have regular and close contact with young people similar to those they will encounter in the program, the administrator may be the best judge of which academic enrichment curriculum will be most useful.

Consider, too, how much exposure and/or time staff members have to examine potential materials. Instructors moving directly from regular classrooms into JTPA may have little time and/or inclination to evaluate texts in the midst of administering final exams, grading papers, and other duties.

The key to the success of any summer program is a caring and well-trained staff. We urge administrators to hire the best teachers available, ones who genuinely care about young people and their future lives. When it comes to training such a staff, we can help. Experience has taught us that the most successful programs are led by instructors who are working together toward the same goals and supporting each other in their efforts. Don't leave this element to chance. It's too important.

 

2. How do you work with populations of widely differing abilities?

At first glance, Career Choices may appear to be written at a reading level beyond that of some JTPA youth. Truthfully, it is challenging for some young people. We have been gratified to note, however, that many readers are willing to accept the challenge. They reach down inside themselves, and put to work those abilities no one has bothered to acknowledge before because this text is about things that matter to all adolescents, whatever their background or IQ. We hope that you will separate yourself from those who automatically assume that a young person who has not performed at a given level cannot and will not do so. There are thousands of young people out there just waiting to live up to your expectations of them, however high or low those may be.

We do not mean to dismiss those young people who are genuinely unable to read at the level Career Choices demands. Many sites have overcome this obstacle by having instructors read to their students, stopping to explain as necessary. We admit this does not do anything to boost the reading skills of slow readers, but it does interest and involve them, it does motivate them to work up to their potential - in reading as well as in other subjects. Sometimes it's more helpful to provide a reason to learn before you attempt to teach a skill that students may not be convinced they need to master.

In Hempstead, instructors took the time to work with students on an individual basis, as needed. We believe this is a wise course of action.

What about the more advanced student? Instructors and administrators in Hempstead kept them from getting bored by providing additional enrichment opportunities. You'll find some ideas for these in the Instructor's and Counselor's Guide. Hempstead came up with some of its own. You can be sure that we are continuing to work to meet your needs for every young person in your program. We'll let you know what we develop or, if you have ideas, please let us know. We'll gladly work with you to meet your particular needs.

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