William Tennent science teachers Ignacio Jayo and Steve Beal understand that modern-day high school classrooms have drastically changed since they were students. Currently, there’s more pressure on teens to not only achieve good grades, but also build a resume of extracurriculars and work experience before graduation.
Rather than pick an afterschool activity that they feel blasé about or a shift at the local Starbucks, Jayo and Beal wanted their students to do more. Last fall, they launched ExcitED — a program that gives students paid internships in the professional fields of entrepreneurship, user design and biotechnology disciplines.
For their efforts, Jayo and Beal were nominated for and won the 2022 Pennsylvania Innovative School Teacher Award. The instructors accepted their honor on Oct. 30 during the annual Excellence in Public Education Leadership Dinner at the 2022 PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference, hosted at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions.
“It was very nice,” said Jayo. “There was also a superintendent that was being awarded the Innovation Award, as well as a school board member. So we got to meet some really nice folks from all over the state. It was nice to exchange some notes and learn what other people are doing as well.”
Jayo and Beal were nominated for the award by Dr. Dennis Best, assistant to the superintendent for Centennial School District. He and other leaders have been supportive of their mission to give Tennent students an early leg up in the real world, which began several years ago.
“We really started using partnerships to bring people into the classroom, or even taking kids outside of the classroom to engage in authentic learning opportunities. That resulted in a summer program called Centennial X, and that’s what got the ball rolling,” said Beal. “When we went to school, it was all about being able to memorize content. But the world is very different from when we were their age, right? They can find all the content they want in their phones. So it’s all about applying the content and being able to work with others, being able to solve problems, etc.”
The ExcitED program is open to students in grades 10 through 12, who are able to apply for internships after completing specific classes of Jayo and Beal. Thanks to partnerships with individuals like David Garbe, PhD, director of outreach and education at the Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research, and Amanda Purdy, PhD, director of academic affairs at Fox Chase Cancer Center, there are a number of options for students to choose from.
“We’re taking these students and really making them competitive in this job market. This is something they put on their resumes or their applications,” said Garbe. “These opportunities are allowing students to move away from just getting a job at a fast food chain, to now doing a job that actually makes them marketable.”
This past summer, the students earned a total of $38,650 while obtaining competitive and marketable skills at six different host sites. One was ProofPilot, where students worked alongside chief of strategy Joe Kim as part of a marketing and entrepreneurial internship. They helped the marketing team develop a playbook for reaching out to a younger audience. Other students worked in various laboratories under the direct supervision of scientists at Doylestown Biotech Center’s Hep B Program, with their experience culminating in a final presentation highlighting the research techniques they learned.
According to Jayo, ExcitED also gives students the chance to weed out professions they don’t see themselves pursuing, and also discover positions they didn’t know existed.
“Forty-two percent of our students are at or below the poverty level. They don’t sit with professionals often enough to guide them into different paths compared to some wealthier school districts or private schools,” said Jayo. “So coming in contact with these professionals, having enriched conversations about what kinds of jobs are out there, the kids can actually get a different take on a different direction they want to go.”
Prior to landing the internships, ExcitED helps the students prepare by welcoming representatives from Bucks County Community College to conduct training on interviewing, resume writing and more. Additionally, Jayo and Beal welcome guest speakers to discuss a variety of industry-related topics in the classroom and even serve as mentors to students.
So far, ExcitED seems to be working. Beal shared some feedback received from participants: “They said how transformative it was for them and how much confidence they now have to be around adults and work in an adult world. They also feel like their soft skills and professional skills were elevated. They feel better about talking to adults, presenting in front of adults, working next to adults, advocating for themselves, asking questions. That’s a big thing. Most high school kids are scared to death to ask a question of another adult.”
Funding for ExcitED is through a $250,000 Schools-to-Work grant through the state Department of Labor and Industry, as well as other smaller awards.
Moving forward, Jayo and Beal hope to form more partnerships with companies willing to take a chance on the next generation. While the internships will surely glow on a college application, the teachers don’t want their students to feel pressured to follow that journey.
“We try to paint a variety of pathways and avenues for these kids,” said Beal. “We’re trying to help develop a pipeline to these good-paying jobs, to other opportunities, because there’s been this huge push in this country that everyone goes to college whether or not it’s appropriate for them. During the pandemic, we saw how important trades are. And now we’re figuring out that there’s this whole biotech manufacturing industry that if kids are made aware of it, maybe they can go directly into the industry, have the industry pay for their education and then get good-paying jobs.”
Visit exciteducation.com/ for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org