Career Day in South Los Angeles
This year I had the pleasure of serving on the Career Day committee and on June 16, 2010 our school held its first ever Career Day (we are a rather new school.) As Career Day came to a close, I was struck by how this time-honored tradition still holds relevance for the students of the new millennium.
First, having outsiders visit our campus is in and of itself quite a feat. Being located in an industrial part of town that few of our visitors would have ever had the need to visit, did not work to our advantage. Yet the speakers took on the challenge and found themselves pleasantly surprised with the cleanliness of our campus and the campus design itself. Our speakers were greeted by the most personable, vocal, and charming students on campus: the Advanced Studies students. These students became one on one escorts for our speakers from the moment they arrived campus and were able to give the speakers a sense of the school community and student life.
Having strangers repeat the same exhortations to students (“be on time,” “work hard,” “do your best”) all of a sudden seemed like it was the first time the students had ever heard of such things. The students were riveted. The students were engaged.
We had speakers from a variety of fields: fashion design, marine research, law enforcement, advertising, media, sales, law, entertainment, and sports. The students wanted to know how much money each speaker made, and whether they knew any famous person, such as Lady Gaga. Some students were eager to touch the fire department equipment, the fashion designer’s portfolio, or the Shasta representatives’ new apple-flavored product that was not on the market yet. I guess you can’t touch these things over the internet.
The students in the auditorium were able to hear speakers such as Momo Rodriguez, a Latino comedian and radio personality and Vanessa Marquez, who played “Ana” in the Stand and Deliver movie of Jaime Escalante fame. These entertainers emphasized the idea of having a back up plan in case your first career option does not work out. Bennie Adams and Violet Palmer, both NBA referees talked about how being late to work or not fulfilling the job requirements were “not an option.” It never occurred to students that as adults, there may come a time where all the rules they perceive as bendable may actually have consequences for not following. Violet Palmer was a true inspiration to our young ladies; she is the only female referee in the entire NBA. As a product of Compton public schools, Ms. Palmer was a true example for students that there are no barriers that are insurmountable when you have a passion for what you do.
Throughout Career Day I reflected on the large number of minority speakers who came to give back to the predominantly Latino and African-American South L.A. community. Although we had speakers of all races, the majority were minority speakers. There is something to be said for the social fabric of school and its community; our predominantly minority teachers reached out to their families and friends and asked them to visit the school. As such, the students were able to see role models in law and science that actually looked like themselves. What is happening at schools throughout the nation where local teachers are being replaced with outsiders who have no ties to the community, solely because of student test scores that many believe are beyond the reach of the individual classroom teacher?
Was Career Day a success? Resoundingly. The student escorts were thrilled to have had guided our speakers throughout campus, the classroom students had an alteration in their typical June school day, and classroom teachers had a chance to have their mantras repeated by the “experts” thus reinforcing our mutual advice to students.
The students were able to see a purpose for the learning that takes place every day in the classroom. Speakers were quick to emphasize how they would have been unable to get to their level of achievement without putting in the hard work in their K-12 schooling and beyond. But perhaps most importantly, in a year of budget cuts, layoffs of deeply treasured teachers, homelessness and upheaval, the students felt valued and remembered; someone cared enough to make the 1-2 hour drive into the heart of South L.A. to share a part of their lives with them.
Can’t wait for Career Day 2011!