As educators, many of us strive to promote continuous growth, drive change and help students create their own opportunities. At Illinois’ J. Sterling Morton High School District 201, the situation is no different.
As a low-income district, these goals have been difficult to achieve despite being necessary for our students. We are constantly thinking of ways to bring out the grit, passion and intelligence inherent in our students by providing them with equitable access to education.
Fernanda Garcia is a senior at Morton West High School. She has been in our technology internship program (TSI) throughout her high school career. She is a brilliant leader, and here she shares her five top tips for starting a TSI to inspire others to create one in their own schools or districts.
1. Understand Your Needs and Establish Your Vision
What you can do: Set the vision for your TSI and state its purpose. When creating this vision, remember that success in this program depends on how well students own the classroom and lead their own learning.
What we did: In 2012, we went one-to-one for 2,200 freshman students, leaving us the question of who would troubleshoot and fix those devices. The TSI program was our answer, which not only served the school’s needs but opened opportunities for students who were underserved or were having trouble succeeding.
What Fernanda says: “Implement a TSI program because it helps people grow academically and mentally. This program helped me explore my curious mind and taught me to ask questions, such as why something is the way it is or why it functions as it does.”
2. Surround Yourself with Advocates and Dissenters
What you can do: Find advocates in your school or district and make sure they help move your vision forward. As you continue to gain advocates, you’ll be able to eliminate roadblocks and grow your program.
Don’t forget to invite some dissenting voices to the table too; you can screen test your vision and they may bring forward some ideas you might not have considered.
What we did: Our first advocate was our school board, as its support was crucial in the creation and sustainability of our program. Without board members’ support, success would not have been possible.
From there, we created a committee to decide what our program would look like. The committee consisted of all types, taking the original vision and improving it by ensuring the program was well rounded and served a broad range of students.
What Fernanda says: “Our school board gave us the opportunity to work for TSI over the summer with IT. This was my first real job, giving me the best real-world experience of my life, and it helped me continue to grow as a student and a person. There wasn’t one day I disliked.”
3. Communicate and Make it a Big Deal
What you can do: Share what you’ve established with everyone. Get people excited and make sure the message you want communicated is clear.
What we do: Our communication plan included word of mouth, fliers, the school newsletter, social media posts and visits to our incoming freshman. Now, we go into classrooms and principal events, are present at open houses and work with academic advisers. Eighth graders are excited about TSI even before they start.
What Fernanda says: “Being able to tell others about TSI has been great and has opened the door to other opportunities I will always appreciate. My social skills have excelled. I was even able to advance my Spanish language skills by communicating with Spanish-speaking parents who needed help with Skyward, our student information system.”
4. Expect Ownership from the Students
What you can do: Expect students to run the room. Let them set goals and encourage them to be leaders. With responsibilities and high expectations, students will always exceed their goals and ensure your program thrives.
What we do: Students in our program run small groups, facilitate learning, conduct demonstrations and collaborate with everyone in the room. Teachers facilitate future learning, onboard students and maintain the highest expectations for students’ work. Our job as educators is to make sure the bar set for our students is as high as it can be.
What Fernanda says: “Through this program, I have become someone available to my peers, a person they can talk to if they have any questions about our program. I have taken on a leadership role where I am actually able to teach students, handle more responsibilities and manage my own class. I have developed leadership skills and time management skills. Whenever I had a bad day, I always felt TSI could cheer me up. TSI is what has made high school the best years of my life to date.”
5: Make the Decision to Jump
What we all can do: This whole process, like many good things in life, is messy, but you have to give yourself, your colleagues, your students and your community the permission to jump. From jumping, you will learn there will always be someone to catch you; you will develop relationships with colleagues, students and families you never knew were possible.
You will create an environment in your classroom where students feel safe, respected, cared for and valued. Students will create opportunities for themselves and be competitive in this ever-changing world.