Times have changed. Today, only about 30 percent of high school students have jobs. But those young people, about 60,000 of them in Maryland, have valuable assets that are too often overlooked.
We all understand that most students will enter the workforce within a few years of high school graduation. Many are academically prepared but, never having held a job, lack skills that employers value most: work ethic, communication skills and teamwork.
The 30 percent who have found and held jobs in high school are a step ahead of those who haven’t. Too often, however, our schools are not organized to build on the strengths and values of employment, and in fact, through rigid scheduling create barriers to learning adult skills.
Last school year, Montgomery County Public Schools launched an innovative effort to support these motivated, hardworking young people and turbocharge their futures: the TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS).
Victor Reding of Silver Spring is a good example of a TAWS student. With his family, he immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a child. A self-described “go-getter,” Reding worked 40 hours a week in his senior year in high school and received a promotion to shift manager at BurgerFi in downtown Silver Spring. To work full-time and complete school successfully, he needed a program that played to his strengths — initiative and hard work.
He found it at TAWS, which designed his class schedule around his career goals and work schedule, instead of forcing him to arrange his life around the traditional 10-month, five-days-a-week, six-hours-a-day, on-site high school schedule. He had a career coach, helping him focus his high school and postgraduate plans on his career goals. He took statistics and honors English online. TAWS tutors were available, but he didn’t need them.
This spring, along with 43 of his TAWS peers, Reding earned his high school diploma on time and with high marks, including a 3.2 grade-point average. Now, he has started his postsecondary training to become a skilled, well-paid master electrician.
With an average GPA of higher than 3.0, TAWS graduates came from a wide variety of ethnicities and social classes and 19 Montgomery County high schools. They earned college credits and passed Advanced Placement courses in calculus, English, literature and statistics. One-third of the students had GPAs above a 3.5; many were accepted at top colleges, including the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, George Washington and St. John’s universities and the Juilliard School.
Most are going to college this fall, but they all demonstrated the skills they need in the workplace and in family life, including organizing their work, meeting deadlines, communicating effectively and working hard. Their career goals span an incredible range from computer engineer to general surgeon, psychologist, accountant and FBI agent.
Having a job as a teenager was, and still is, an invaluable experience. Students today deserve the opportunity and the option to be a part of the working world. They shouldn’t have to choose between their education and an early job.
TAWS, a partnership of Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, University of Maryland Global Campus and Pearson Online, has given these special young people the support they need to reach their goals. Many more Montgomery students have applied for the coming year. Because TAWS operates year-round, as these students and their employers do, a group of students participated this summer. One summer participant was Audrey Ahyi, a U.S.-born daughter of African immigrants. Ahyi joined TAWS’s summer program to get a jump-start on her career as an entrepreneur and international business owner, hoping to use her experience working at Banana Republic to launch her own retail store. Thanks to the program’s flexibility, she is taking advantage of TAWS online courses while in Europe. With her career coach, she has identified universities in France and the United States that will accept the Montgomery College courses she will continue to take this year.
It’s time to expand TAWS to all the high school students it can serve, in Montgomery County and across Maryland.