How One Conversation Transformed My Son's Life Forever

Voices from the Field   10 July 2018
By Steven Bartholomew, New Legacy Charter School

 

As a parent, you want your child to be happy and successful in life. In a relatively short 21 years, I’ve been lucky enough to already see this growth play out.

Steven Bartholomew
Executive Director, New Legacy Charter School

I am a proud father. In March, I visited my son’s workplace—an IT consulting firm that recently moved to a much nicer location with great accommodations. My son, Justin, toured me around the building with great pride, showing off all the great features, equipment, and technology of the new and updated space.

For a young man who recently turned 21, he is doing really well. However, if you would have asked me ten years ago where Justin would be at this point in his life, I wouldn’t have known how to respond. As Justin progressed through the first two-thirds of his K-12 journey, he performed well but without much enthusiasm. His lack of engagement became impossible to ignore when he came surprisingly close to not passing his eighth grade math class.

Admittedly, at this point in time, our relationship was already rocky. The math class only added fuel to the fire. As his father, I actually understood his not wanting to do the work. I knew this school wasn’t working for him.

But, as an educator, I was still trying to convince him to do it. I needed him to complete the assignments because that’s what the situation called for. And, if he could complete his eighth grade year, I would be all-in trying to convince him to attend the school I worked at—The Metropolitan Regional Career And Technical Center (The Met).

As any parent knows, it’s almost impossible to be a prophet within your own home. In fact, I only added the “almost” after my one and only successful experience. After passing eighth grade and having a heartfelt conversation with me, Justin decided to attend an open house and explore what The Met was all about. I couldn’t wait to hear his thoughts after attending.

He was hooked. Shortly after submitting his application, he was accepted and enrolled for his freshman year.

 

The teachers understood how to approach him and how to deliver information in a way where he would actually do the work.

Steven Bartholomew
Executive Director, New Legacy Charter School

Right away, it was a different environment for Justin. The teachers took the time to get to know him and his interests. They also got to know his hands-on learning style and his, shall we say, strong personality. They understood how to approach him and how to deliver information in a way where he would actually do the work.

Of course, there were assignments, tasks, and homework he didn’t like to do, but his mindset toward these elements were drastically different. For one, these elements didn’t take up the majority of his learning time. More importantly, his advisor differentiated the learning in a way that made the work more accessible and attuned to his learning style.

When writing or reading, he had a choice in not only the subject but also how he would access the reading and writing (online, articles, interviews, books, etc.) And, when a mentor who worked in one of Justin’s career interests showed Justin the knowledge and skills he would need to be successful in that industry, Justin did the work because he saw purpose in it. He was learning, and he understood the “why” of his learning.

What happens inside the walls of The Met already provides a radically different environment for learning and learners. However, the biggest reason Justin found success was the Learning Through Internships (LTIs) component of The Met’s model.

If you’re a student at The Met, you have an LTI. There are no age requirements. Since Justin began as a freshman, he went through four years and eight semesters worth of internships. Two days a week, Justin would go out into the Providence, RI community and explore interests he only dreamed of having access to before. His interests simply didn’t show up within the traditional state standards.

 

This was the moment where life began taking a very different shape for him.

Steven Bartholomew
Executive Director, New Legacy Charter School

Given his interest in computers, Justin spent his first LTI with the tech team at a middle school. He connected with his mentor, so he willingly did any task assigned. He got to program tablets for students (and had to study how to do it and problem solve any issue). He got to help his mentor develop an educational app. He was learning in the way that suited him best. He loved it.

During his sophomore year, he wanted to add more breadth to his portfolio, so he teamed up with a website design business. I think Justin would agree that this was the moment where life began taking a very different shape for him.

While interning at this business, he had the opportunity to learn from and work with a client who needed to be taken through the web development process. The client was so impressed with Justin, she recommended him to an IT firm during his senior year.

Rather than jump through the regular hoops of research and cold calls—both of which are necessary components to teaching students how to put themselves out there—Justin was recruited by the IT firm his previous client had sent his name to.

As a parent, you want your child to be happy and successful in life. In a relatively short 21 years, I’ve been lucky enough to already see this growth play out. In middle school, Justin didn’t like school, and we struggled in our relationship. By the time Justin graduated, he successfully had college credits, certifications, three college acceptances, and two job offers (from his last two LTI sites). I could not have been happier.

When taking a tour of his new workspace, this journey went through my mind: The 11-year-old Justin collecting cell phones and taking apart and putting back together old computers. His struggles in middle school and deteriorating interest in learning. Then, his revitalized enthusiasm returning through his LTI experiences in high school.

 

Learner-centered education works. Exposing youth to real-world opportunities works.

Steven Bartholomew
Executive Director, New Legacy Charter School

Today, I see a happy and successful Justin. As an added bonus, he even became a mentor for another Met student! I am thankful to have a school that is learner-centered and focused on real-world learning. I saw it work with my son, and I saw it work daily as a principal at The Met.

Learner-centered education works. Exposing youth to real-world opportunities works. With a sustainable culture established at The Met, I wanted to effect change elsewhere.

As the incoming Executive Director for New Legacy Charter School in Aurora, CO, I want to continue to work with administrators and teachers to help our students through personalized learning. I want to make sure each student connects with their own education and takes advantage of real-world learning opportunities like internships, certifications, and college classes.

Why? As stated above—it works.

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