iLead Class Bridges the Gap Between High School and The Real World

It’s the age-old question: What am I ever going to use this for? Students have had that same quandary about biology, trigonometry, Hamlet and Macbeth, the Red Scares. When is this ever going to be applicable? High school students are stubborn; there is no doubt of that. It can be hard to see the big picture after all, when you’re staring down a problem about angles and buoys and wondering how this is going to help you later on in life.

You might think, “How is this going to help me buy a house? Or get my taxes done?” While it’s important to do well in your classes, the question is a valid one. Some people might argue that the school system needs reform.

Interestingly enough, that argument is not what led to the creation of a class here at Watkins Glen High School that is nothing short of revolutionary.

“It was conceived through businesses in conversation with the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Rebekah Carroll,” Kaz Popovich commented of the iLead class, a new career-focused addition to the daily schedule for the 2016-2017 school year. These businesses, Mrs. Popovich explained, had seen a lack of soft skills in entry level employees. The class was meant to be a remedy to this.

On this, Rebekah Carroll expanded. “As a community leader, a parent, and an employer, I get to see and experience a lot of things relative to the school and high school graduates that most don’t.” Mrs. Carroll cited the Chamber of Commerce scholarship program, which had in past years received submissions from seniors that were poorly written and, as she described them, “unpublishable.”

Mrs. Carroll noted that, as a parent, she was made aware of the fact that budgetary issues had caused a decline in business classes which might cultivate these soft skills. She describes the “final impetus,” towards creating the class as being a series of interviews conducted with the class of 2015, interviews which she said enlightened her to “what was missing in our educational system.”

The Chamber, as a result, was quick to work with its committees to offer a solution. Together, Mrs. Popovich and Mrs. Carroll presented the class structure, curriculum, and budgetary needs to the Watkins Glen board of education.

From the beginning, Mrs. Carroll explained, the class was carefully constructed. She explained that a committee was formed of staff from GST Boces, Watkins Glen High School, as well as the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce who “build the curriculum very intentionally,” to meet the community needs.

Even still Mrs. Carroll notes “it has more depth to it than any of us could have imagined.”

Depth the class indeed possesses, and successes it has enjoyed. In October, the students hosted a mixer for members of the Chamber of Commerce, and held another before the December break. Students have been exposed to situations where they’ve learned to interact with adults in professional situations and have received invaluable advice from business owners in the community.

“They (the students) are going to have connections within our community… and be able to communicate effectively with others and know how to handle themselves in situations where they’re not comfortable,” Mrs. Popovich commented.

Situations like the second annual Spark Conference at the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel. Students from the iLead class were privileged enough to be invited to this two day event, hosted by the Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce. The students not only were exposed to a more adult environment, but also were given an opportunity to speak and interact with such notable figures as Dick Radatz Junior, Alan Rae, and Arel Moodie.

The event was perhaps the crowning experience to date for the students of a class that has pushed their boundaries and begun to redefine what schooling looks like.

For these students, who took that daring steps and pioneered the class, Mrs. Carroll has a specific hope, “that the class will provide each of them with the skills they need to be successful in whatever careers they seek out…” and that students develop a better understanding not only of how they can achieve success in the Finger Lakes Region, but that “they have a better understanding of whom they are.”

The class, Carroll states, will not only earn students a strong connection to the business owners and community leaders, but she hopes that for the students the “class will help them define a clear path for their future, and that they will have a strong network to seek guidance from.”

A noble task in a scholastic landscape that readily puts the focus on honing technical abilities, but too often leaves behind the necessary soft skills to become successful in any field.


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