Creating a Life Mission Statement for High School Students

Life After High School Must Include Education or Training

By Mary Helt Gavin | Evanston Round Table | Nov. 7, 2012

Gone are the days of “career track” and “college track” at Evanston Township High School, said Shelly Gates, chair of Applied Sciences and Technologies at the high school.

A lot can be said for focusing on employable skills, Ms. Gates said, but cautioned that learning those skills may have to continue after high school.

“We’re trying to get away from the idea that kids can get enough training in high school. … All kids need some postsecondary education. We help kids figure out their skills and what they will do next. Kids have a right to know what they’re going to do next, why they’ll be going to do it and how much it will cost them,” she says.

Brian Stone’s business practicum – one of two at ETHS, the other in health sciences – exposes students to the workplace of the real world along with classroom studies. They have to have a job or internship for the class.

He helps the young people get jobs through a combination of teaching them practical skills and “knocking on doors.”

One week is spent in learning about applying for a job: how to dress up, create a resume and cover letter, and holding mock interviews.

“They pick the job they want and I pretend I’m from the company,” he told the RoundTable.

“When students have jobs, it really changes the conversation [in the class]. There’s more ownership; they’re dealing with other people outside the building.”

Ian Byron works at Noodles & Company after school and on weekends. “I didn’t get the job through this class,” he said, but he thinks it offers “a great step forward in finding a job …. I have learned what it takes to get a job …. Mr. Stone has the ability to connect with jobs and employers. He talked to my boss [when I was washing dishes], and I got a promotion. I have to sacrifice my weekends to my job – no time for hanging around. It gets frustrating. I just want to get out of here. Having a job helps you to take responsibility, clear my head, focus, be ready and leave personal stuff behind.” He is a senior but has not solidified his plans for next year.

Horland Patterson works at concessions at Century Theatres but also “moves around to other positions.”

Rush hours – the busiest times for him – are the hours of 7, 8 and 9 p.m. – when there is “a lot of work dealing with people’s attitudes and anger.”

He plans to attend college next year and “study something business-related” but would like to stay at the job for a while.

In addition to learning skills and earning money, students are collecting experiences that may help in the painful process of applying for college.

“Small colleges love to see students have work experiences and internships,” Mr. Stone said.

Asked how he is able to connect with students in his dual role of job-shepherd and teacher, he said, “Laughter. The first thing I learned is that in order for students to learn, they have to trust you.”

Mission Is Possible and Personal in Mr. Stone’s Business Practicum at ETHS

In Brian Stone’s year-long, six-credit business practicum, students have to attend class and complete homework as in other Evanston Township High classes, but to get credit for the course, each must find a job or an internship.

By the end of October, most of this year’s 20 students had a job, an internship or significant extra-curricular involvements, so Mr. Stone added something new to help students clarify their plans for the future: He invited Diane Testa of Koi Consulting Group to help them craft personal mission statements.

Over four class periods Ms. Testa guided the students toward articulating their passion. “Your passion is your power,” she told the students. “What excites you? What angers you? What three things would you teach?” she asked.

The responses might surprise those who think a teen’s world extends little beyond music, phones and Saturday night: “war, our country is always at war;” “the number of homeless people, people who go without food, lights, water;” “regret, pain;” “when people die or hurt others or feel like they shouldn’t help others;” “the negativity that’s in all of us.”

The students then refined and condensed their responses into four words – three verbs and a noun – that would form the backbone of their mission statements. Students appeared to be open to questions from Ms. Testa that aimed toward clarification.

“What area or field do you mean when you say ‘excellence’?” she asked a student. “Excellence in sports” was the reply.

One student’s mission statement was “Appreciate others, embrace our differences, remember those who are often forgotten.”

“Who are the often forgotten?” Ms. Testa asked.

“Homeless people,” the student replied.

“Oh, the 99 percent,” said a classmate.

Shelly Gates, head of the Department of Applied Sciences and Technologies at ETHS, visited the class for one session. “I think every kid who graduates from high school should have a mission statement,” she said, adding, “These kids really care.”


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