JP Observer : Apprentice Learning Benefits Middle-Schoolers, Community

Special to the Gazette

Personal, practical experience at local workplaces has led to success for hundreds of Boston Public School eighth-graders, thanks to Jamaica Plain-based Apprentice Learning and its community partners.

Young people from five Apprentice Learning partner schools, including Boston Teachers Union, Mission Hill School and Rafael Hernandez School in the JP area, “learn essential work skills and habits and expose students to different careers and adults who are passionate about their professions, so that students can make a clear connection between success in school and a satisfying, productive work life,” according the website.

More than a dozen workplaces in JP, along with dozens more around the city, have hosted Apprentice Learning eighth-graders over the past seven years.

JP businesses and nonprofits who have hosted students include: Boing Toy Shop, City Feed and Supply, Community Servings, Fresh Hair, Ferris Wheels Bicycle Shop, Horizons for Homeless Children, JP Comics, Mike’s Fitness and Kate McNally, Trainer, New Leaf Flores, NorthStar Asset Management, Polka Dog Bakery, Station 8 Salon and Urban Improv. More are always welcome.

The Apprentice Learning office itself is located in the Fowler Building at 743-745 Centre Street across from the fire station.

Founded by Executive Director Helen Russell in 2012 with the goal of improving high school graduation rates, Apprentice Learning has achieved that and more. Ninety-two percent of the students have reported they gained in academic motivation. Eighty-seven percent of alums graduated, and 80 went on to further education. That’s compared to the overall rate of 73 percent who graduate and 66 percent who go on in Boston. In 2018, over 50 percent of the young people landed a paying summer job after being in the program during the school year.

In a recent interview, Russell said Apprentice Learning “introduces kids to career dreams and plans.” Apprentice Learning helps kids match the two up.

Students have Apprentice Learning training sessions at their schools, and the schools allow them to leave for their work experiences. During the school year, they may go to “Work Explorations,” with a group of students at one workplace to spend a  day to learning about what they do.

Or they may participate in an apprenticeship by going to a business to work two hours a week for six weeks. At the beginning, students make a “self presentation” video that includes their describing their learning style. Afterwards, they put together resumes for future jobs.

Apprentice Learning also offers a City Summer Internship just for girls which consists of a month of on-site and workshop learning about career opportunities in Boston in fields where women are typically underrepresented. The girls earn a stipend for the summer internship.

Russell described one girl who said she wanted to be a lawyer because she admired a particular lawyer. When the girl found out being a lawyer involved a lot of reading, though, she decided she wanted to better match her day-to-day interests with her future job. That’s one of Apprentice Learning’s goals: to help young people find out what jobs they might like.

As a Community Servings staff person observed to Apprentice Learning, “Experience is the best way to really understand what you want to pursue as a career.”

Workplaces get a lot out of hosting the young people. “They like being participants in public education,” Russell said of the business partners. The program offers employee engagement to people who work at the businesses. It promotes the importance of building of diversity in the workplace, she said, since many Boston Public School students are people of color.

“I love it,” Fresh Hair senior hairstylist and salon manager Amari Harris said in a recent interview about her experiences as the supervisor of young people from Apprentice Learning. She said on the first day she talks to the students about what they want to do and learn about for at least 30 minutes. She asks them related questions. She explains all the tasks during the apprenticeship, including how mundane things like cleaning, all go toward the goal of serving the customers.

Harris said one girl said she liked to organize things, so she let her, and she organized some so well, they kept her system.

Some of the apprentices are shy, she said, so she likes to make them feel comfortable and encourages them to talk with her, because communication is important. One girl seemed smart but talked very little, so Harris asked her questions. She said she finally told the girl, “’Be yourself.’” On the last day, the girl gave her a hug, and Harris felt she had a real impact.

“The program is very rewarding for me,” Harris said. “I always get so much out of it. I love to watch the students learn and grow.”

Students send thank-you notes to the businesses that host them that reflect the specific and general experiences they have. Student Dyimond Humphrey wrote to NorthStar Asset Management of her apprenticeship: “Thank you for teaching me the ways of a financial advisor and what your jobs consist of. What I enjoyed the most was learning about income and budgeting. I enjoyed this the most because I know I have been taught an important life lesson that is never supposed to be forgotten… My experience at your workplace will help me in the future by teaching me what the real world is like.”

Russell pointed out how helpful the school partners are, too, in letting students leave their regular classrooms for training and work.

About half of the funding for Apprentice Learning comes from individuals and fundraisers and half from local foundations, Russell said.

Last year Apprentice Learning served 311 young people. This year it has already worked with 286. Eighth grade is the perfect time to introduce young people to the world of work. The information they gain from learning work skills and getting work experience benefits them and society itself. For more information, see

Russell said she wants Apprentice Learning to “grow across the city and the state.”

We can all hope it does. The more schools, workplaces and individuals that support the program, the better off local kids and the rest of us will be.

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