The future starts now
By Katy Hemmings, Guest Blogger,
Sometimes, you have one of those days that reminds you just how powerful education can be. Today was one of them. Together with a number of Pearson colleagues, including Kate Edwards, Bob Whelan, Robin Baliszewski, Steve Santana, Don Kilburn, and James Reeve, I was lucky enough to visit The Goodwill Excel Center in Austin, where they’ve created the first free, public charter school in Texas for adults aged 17-50. Best known for their stores, I had no idea that Goodwill also ran schools.
Goodwill provides an inspiring environment for adults to earn a high school diploma, complete a professional certification, or begin post-secondary education. The Center is a modern, open space, with motivating messages on the walls that celebrate student achievement, finding a great career, and opportunities to grow and learn. They help students to develop a tangible career path that leads to a better job and a better life. It was a great way to get us thinking about ‘employability’ – one of the five priority areas we’re discussing at this week’s Accelerated Growth Meeting here in Austin. You can learn more about employability from the session that we livestreamed today with Leah Jewell.
Working closely with the local business community, the Center is careful to provide an education that helps students get qualified for real jobs that meet real business needs. Students are on average 35 years old, have all dropped out of high school at some point in their lives, and may be tackling any number of issues, including disability, homelessness, and overcoming a previous criminal conviction. Breaking the cycle of poor education is hugely important, Matt Williams, VP of Education, told us, because, “kids of high school dropouts are 50% more likely to drop out themselves.”
Matt showed us around the facility today, and explained: “Every student we have is considered ‘at risk’. We want students to feel they belong here, and that they have a sense of agency.” The Center’s approach is focused on the whole person, and they help students to overcome common barriers like childcare and transport, to ensure that nothing stands in their way of getting an education. The aim is to help students prioritize school, irrespective of other challenges they may be tackling in their lives. Students can take advantage of extended opening hours – the Center is open from 8am-10pm - and they have access to individual support from a qualified life coach, as well as sessions to help them manage their finances, get work placements and find a suitable job that meets their needs.
With a curriculum that includes short and long term career planning, and a focus on developing soft skills - “you get hired on hard skills and fired on soft skills,” as Matt puts it – it’s proving to be a winning formula for students. We met Raven, a student in her thirties who’d dropped out of high school and never imagined she’d be back to complete her education. She’d been working three jobs and couldn’t see a way to get a better future, when a friend suggested she try The Goodwill Excel Center. At first, she was embarrassed at the idea of returning to school at her age. Today, she said that getting an education opened up new opportunities for her. After she graduates this term, she’s planning to join a registered nursing program at college and wants to be able to help people. The idea of having just one job in the future is a real motivation for her to keep studying.
Santos, another student who graduates this year, shared his story about growing up in Detroit, Michigan. He told us that school seemed “a waste of time.” Nobody in his family had graduated high school, so it didn't seem a big deal to drop out. Now in his mid-twenties, he talks about the Center as the “perfect environment” for learning, because the teachers care so much. A high achieving student now, he says with absolute conviction that “there’s no reason why any student shouldn’t get an ‘A’ grade!”. His passion for the Center and way it’s helped him to turn his life around, is clear and really inspiring. He plans to go to college and is full of hope for the future. “It’s like my fifth second chance,” he says, with a huge smile.
Big thanks to Emily Jagger and Abigail Bishop for arranging today's trip. Truly inspiring stuff.
*Pearson donated textbooks to the Center this past winter.