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What Happens When the Real World, High School and College Collide


By Sheila Jackson

“When am I ever going to use this in real life?”

This is the time-honored refrain of high school students of every generation — used most often when they are confused or uninspired by science or math classes. But thanks to a groundbreaking partnership led by SAP, 30 students in the inaugural class of ‘C-Town Tech’ at Charlestown High School in Boston simply have no use for that phrase anymore.

This September marked the launch of an ambitious six-year, STEM-focused program that allows participants to complete high school, earn a college degree in information technology and get hands-on exposure to IT careers along the way. In short, what these kids are learning in the classroom has immediate, real-world relevance that inspires their imaginations, encourages them to continue their education and impacts their future paychecks.

What’s good for business is good for education

While the C-Town Tech program is brand new, the idea of building strong cross-sector partnerships between for-profit employers, schools, community colleges and not-for-profit intermediaries like Jobs for the Future has already proven effective.

Let’s take a look at what happens when an innovative company like SAP participates in equipping youth with tools they need to thrive in the 21st century workforce.

SAP achieves bigger returns by investing more than just money

Historically, SAP’s corporate giving involved matching gifts at numerous organizations and promoting STEM education and youth entrepreneurship across the globe, as well as volunteering. But the company wanted to make a bigger impact. So it created the SAP Signature Education Initiative — unique partnerships in major cities across North America between high schools, post-secondary institutions, local SAP offices, community-based organizations and other key municipal stakeholders that work collaboratively to prepare students for range of future careers as STEM professionals and entrepreneurs.

By taking the long view, SAP is helping to grow the pool of skilled workers to fill its needs in the future.

Curriculum keeps current with technology, and students gain the networks they need

A key role SAP plays in these partnerships is to help school systems update their curricula to reflect workforce needs for 2020 and beyond. SAP works collaboratively with educational institutions, instructors and students to:

  • Share and translate industry knowledge around specific skills and credentials required for occupations in the technology field

  • Connect young people to a network of companies and professionals in the SAP ecosystem

  • Empower high school students with the work-readiness skills that will enable them to be successful in future careers

Graduation rates go up, especially for low-income students and students of color

There is now 10 years’ worth of research and data to show that early college high schools significantly increase high school and college completion rates, especially among low-income students and students of color (AIR, 2013).

An overarching goal of SAP’s corporate social responsibility initiatives is to increase the number of young people that are prepared for career pathways in tech-driven companies, and students of color or from low-income families are typically underrepresented in STEM-related jobs.

The ‘early college’ model brings the connection between education and career to life for students

The C-Town Tech program is based on the early college model, which allows students to earn up to an associate’s degree at the same time they earn their high school diploma — an approach that employment experts at the national non-profit Jobs for the Future have successfully implemented time and again.

For many young people, especially those from low-income families with no history of higher education, high school often fails to prepare them to consider how they’ll get to college, what they’ll do when and if they get there, and most importantly, what they will do afterward. SAP education initiatives make those connections clear so students feel ownership over their professional futures, and have the necessary navigational support along the way.

Students become active participants in their education, and in the office

An expectation for SAP Education Initiative sites is to think creatively about integrating opportunities for career development and exploration into multiple aspects of the school day.

In Boston, C-Town Tech curricular activities include field trips to local SAP offices to job shadow and brainstorm ideas for industry-identified projects. SAP provides mentors who are in the careers students are being prepared to enter, and the program offers paid internships for juniors and seniors.

To learn more about C-Town Tech, or how your company can develop CSR partnerships for greater impact, contact Sheila Jackson at Jobs for the Future; sjackson@jff.org.

Image credit: Flickr/r nial bradshaw

Sheila Jackson is a program manager at Jobs for the Future, where she is responsible for researching and writing about effective strategies for building grades 9-14 career pathways and supporting the delivery of technical assistance to the Pathways to Prosperity Network. Recently, Sheila co-wrote a two-part brief with her colleague, Charlotte Cahill, about youth-access to the workplace with a focus on helping employers navigate the legal and liability issues of having students under 18 in the workplace. Sheila is also involved with JFF’s partnership with enterprise software company, SAP, which includes the development of an IT focused pathway called C-Town Tech at a Boston Public High School. She is currently writing a “blueprint” for SAP’s education initiatives, documenting the key elements of this employer-led initiative to prepare the next generation of young people for college and careers in technology-driven fields.

Prior to joining JFF, Sheila worked at community-based college-access program in San Francisco called Making Waves Education Program, where she supported first-generation college students prepare and apply for college and understand the financial aid process. Prior to her college-access work, she was a special education para-professional in the San Francisco Unified School District. Sheila holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and French from Wesleyan University and a Master’s degree in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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