Contributed by Lisa Morris, Director, Simon Youth Clark Pleasant Academy
Academic focus and life skills development have always gone hand-in-hand at Simon Youth Clark Pleasant Academy. As part of our ongoing effort to better prepare students for self-directed college learning environments and ultimately for the workplace, we are phasing in a “workplace approach,” beginning this semester and continuing into next year.
As a former director of college admissions, school counselor, and now Academy administrator, I’ve been talking to students for years about time management, work ethic, self-monitoring, responsibility and productivity. These skills are so important to our students’ success that my colleagues and I have decided to stop talking about them, and instead, create an academic environment that encourages students to start living these traits on a daily basis.
Students now have a job description that outlines their responsibilities and expectations. They are expected to be on time and have consistent attendance, as they would in a workplace. Their academic progress equates to work productivity levels and is tracked daily, so they always know where they stand relative to their target graduation date. Students who are not meeting attendance and productivity expectations may be placed on an improvement plan, as they would be in the workplace.
We’ve made some adjustments to our workday schedules too. Students arrive at the Academy for their three-hour “shifts” and now have a built-in 15-minute break, similar to a real-world work environment. Students are expected to limit their personal phone calls, texts, videos, and electronic games to break time. Appropriate language and behavior is stressed, reflective of what would be expected in the workplace. And in the future, we’ll be phasing in a time clock, periodic performance reviews, and opportunities to be “promoted” to team leader positions.
Many of these standards and expectations have been in place for years, but the workplace approach involves and empowers students in a new way. By combining academic coursework with real-world life skills development, we are finding that students are beginning to see relevance in every aspect of the school day – from working on math and English classes to coming to school on time.
Since we began implementing the workplace approach, my students have had a running joke: “Where’s my paycheck?” I laugh and tell them, “It’s called a diploma.” I know their “paycheck” lies ahead of them in the form of open doors and opportunities. It’s so exciting to watch these students who were once at-risk of dropping out create full, successful lives for themselves.