Workplace Approach Enhances Learning Environment

Contributed by Lisa Morris, Director, Simon Youth Clark Pleasant
Academy
Academic focus and life skills development have always
gone hand-in-hand at Simon Youth Clark Pleasant Academy. As part of our ongoing
effort to better prepare students for self-directed college learning
environments and ultimately for the workplace, we are phasing in a “workplace
approach,” beginning this semester and continuing into next year. 
As a former director of college admissions, school counselor,
and now Academy administrator, I’ve been talking to students for years about
time management, work ethic, self-monitoring, responsibility and productivity.
These skills are so important to our students’ success that my colleagues and I
have decided to stop talking about them, and instead, create
an academic environment that encourages students to start living these traits on a daily basis. 
Students now have a job description that outlines their
responsibilities and expectations.  They
are expected to be on time and have consistent attendance, as they would in a
workplace.  Their academic progress
equates to work productivity levels and is tracked daily, so they always know
where they stand relative to their target graduation date. Students who are not
meeting attendance and productivity expectations may be placed on an
improvement plan, as they would be in the workplace.
We’ve made some adjustments to our workday schedules
too.  Students arrive at the Academy for
their three-hour “shifts” and now have a built-in 15-minute break, similar to a
real-world work environment. Students are expected to limit their personal
phone calls, texts, videos, and electronic games to break time. Appropriate
language and behavior is stressed, reflective of what would be expected in the
workplace. And in the future, we’ll be phasing in a time clock, periodic
performance reviews, and opportunities to be “promoted” to team leader
positions.
Many of these standards and expectations have been in
place for years, but the workplace approach involves and empowers students in a
new way. By combining academic coursework with real-world life skills
development, we are finding that students are beginning to see relevance in
every aspect of the school day – from working on math and English classes to coming
to school on time. 

Since we began implementing the workplace approach, my
students have had a running joke: “Where’s my paycheck?” I laugh and tell them,
“It’s called a diploma.”  I know their
“paycheck” lies ahead of them in the form of open doors and opportunities.  It’s so exciting to watch these students who
were once at-risk of dropping out create full, successful lives for themselves.

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