Supporting Pathways to Leadership

Sep 4, 2019 by

“Day to day, staff utilize technological advances and tools to educate and guide students.” – Leah O’Reilly

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) is a workforce development and college readiness program for high schools that have a high population of low-income families. Leah O’Reilly, Director of the year-round program states students from these communities lack knowledge of their options after high school, such as the college application process or the job opportunities available, primarily because school staff in their communities are overloaded. Additionally, the resources to help low-income students on an individual basis do not exist. ELP helps alleviate these barriers by providing participants with the information and intense individual daily guidance” they need to properly prepare for next steps.

The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Leah O’Reilly, Director of Programs for the Emerging Leaders Program.

“The ELP staff team regularly communicates with teachers and other school employees, to obtain student information and discuss the student’s progress, to ensure they remain on track towards their goals and assist the work already being done by school staff.” – Leah O’Reilly

Leah, walk us through a day in the life of an ELP student.

No day is the same for our students. Generally speaking, participants meet during the summer months with staff, one-on-one, and create their goal plan. Students also work with staff to begin career assessment and exploration and discuss entering the workforce or college. During one-on-one meetings with the staff, students complete the FAFSA, if college bound, apply for colleges and jobs, develop resumes, and discuss interview and job readiness topics. For college-bound students, financial aid packages are assessed and compared, and final decisions begin to be made. Once the school year begins, students attend a weekly session in which they have lessons and discussions on various topics related to their goals. Students complete mock interviews with program staff as well as attend job shadows or informational interviews with professionals throughout the school year. These sessions include topics such as financial aid, the college application process, financial literacy, and identifying sustainable and high-demand careers that fit students’ interests and abilities. The staff also provides tons of case management to the participants as needed when personal issues arise, which can happen frequently with our population of youth.

How does modern technology support your program?

Modern technology plays a large role in our work. Day to day, staff utilize technological advances and tools to educate and guide students. For example, our local workforce partner organization, Partner4Work, uses advanced data software to gather information on growing industries in both this region and nationally. We use this data and technology to discuss viable career options with students. ELP has also recently participated in testing new career readiness video games developed by a local company, Simcoach Games, to assess the fit and appeal to the population with which we work.

How have students helped you to develop the program’s curriculum?

Because the staff spends so much time with the youth, open communication and rapport with the students are very natural. We are constantly discussing with the youth what aspects of the program they are truly benefiting from and what recommendations they would have for the future of the program. Staff often change the course of sessions as well as individual meetings based on the student’s needs and goals. The curriculum was developed by the staff team to include many evidence-based resources and is constantly evolving based on the needs of the students each year.

“Corporate partners afford our students job tours, job shadowing, and mock interviews.” – Leah O’Reilly

What about the interaction with your partner schools?

We have open and consistent communication with our partner schools. They continue to want to partner with us year after year because we help get outstanding results for their students. In addition, we have relationships with tons of universities as well as the local community college. For example, each year our staff has established close communication with multiple universities. Our students visit, are assessed on their merit, and offered admission. Maintaining these relationships and ensuring proper assessment at all levels guarantee that all ELP students will thrive.

How would you describe the interaction between your organization and teachers – both school and corporate – with the program?

ELP has a strong relationship with all five partner schools and sessions are conducted at each high school and implemented during the school day. Collaboration with school staff is an integral part of the program’s success. The ELP staff team regularly communicates with teachers and other school employees, to obtain student information and discuss the student’s progress, to ensure they remain on track towards their goals and assist the work already being done by school staff. Our staff has access to all student report cards and assessment scores, making academic data collection an easy process for participants. Each school’s administrative staff also assists ELP in recruitment efforts in order to ensure that all low-income students have an opportunity to apply. Corporate partners afford our students job tours, job shadowing, and mock interviews.

If a school wants to use this service, what should they do?

First and most importantly, the school has to have a passion for partnering with outside groups with the main goal to help their students as much as possible to reach their potential. Collaboration with school faculty and staff is an integral part of the program’s success. Also, the school must have enough students eligible for the program to have a full and robust group of participants for a full-time ELP staff person to be able to carry out the program at the school. The school has to be willing to give permission for students to meet for an Emerging Leaders Program session once per week during the school day as well as allow our staff to meet with students individually as needed. Access to a dedicated computer lab that has the capacity for each student in session to utilize the computers individually throughout the week is also crucial.

“The Emerging Leaders Program is constantly changing and growing based on student abilities as well as the overall workforce needs and demands.” – Leah O’Reilly

How would you describe your achievements to date? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

Our track record demonstrates our capacity to move a youth with little to no work experience through a continuum to graduation and a positive post-graduation outcome that will be an immediate pathway out of poverty. ELP has yielded its most impressive outcomes to date exceeding national benchmarks. Last year, our rate of attainment of a high school diploma was 100% (155/155). In addition, placements for college and/or a job were 96% (149/155)!

After years of evaluation and research, we concluded it was more productive to offer the program during the school day to seniors to ensure a captive audience versus after-school, since students are encouraged to work. Also, we added case management to ensure participants receive highly individualized attention and support in pursuit of their goals. With these crucial changes to the program model, ELP has yielded its most impressive outcomes to date.

How do you keep the program timely and relevant for students in a rapidly changing world?

The Emerging Leaders Program is constantly changing and growing based on student abilities as well as the overall workforce needs and demands. We invest in staff development of our team, including trauma-informed care, in the full range of training. We often send staff to conferences and training to keep them current with workforce development trends as well as student learning best practices.

C. M. Rubin with Leah O’Reilly

Thank you to our 800 plus global contributors, teachers, entrepreneurs, researchers, business leaders, students and thought leaders from every domain for sharing your perspectives on the future of learning with The Global Search for Education each month.

C. M. Rubin (Cathy) is the Founder of CMRubinWorld, an online publishing company focused on the future of global learning and the co-founder of Planet Classroom. She is the author of three best-selling books and two widely read online series.  Rubin received 3 Upton Sinclair Awards for “The Global Search for Education”. The series which advocates for all learners was launched in 2010 and brings together distinguished thought leaders from around the world to explore the key education issues faced by nations.

Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld

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