Externships El Segundo Links Businesses with Educators

Group of ESUSD teachers visit downtown El Segundo Businesses

 to see 21st Century Skills in action

El Segundo, CA – November 30, 2012 – If “seeing is believing,” then the group roaming downtown El Segundo on Friday, November 9, was on a path to true enlightenment.   Fourteen El Segundo Unified School teachers, ranging from elementary to middle to high school, volunteered to be part of the first cohort of “Externships El Segundo,” the result of a brainstorming session between ESUSD’s Superintendent, Dr. Geoff Yantz, and Carol Pirsztuk, Chief Executive Officer of the El Segundo Education Foundation.

Yantz recalls, “ESUSD was fortunate enough to host Ian Jukes, the renowned futurist, at our newly renovated El Segundo Theatre for the Performing Arts in November of 2011, and he said something that resonated with me.  In a nutshell, Jukes pointed out a lot of educators had been going to school their entire lives, from the time they enrolled in kindergarten as five-year-olds, through their college educations, and then straight into the classroom as young teachers.  Talking about ‘21st Century Skills’ in the context of how that translates to the workplace can be a  difficult concept in terms of conceptualizing what that would look like if you have personally never been exposed to a private enterprise workplace before.”

That became Yantz’s “ah-ha” moment, leading him to approach the Ed! Foundation for help in finding local businesses and corporations willing to sponsor a “Take A Teacher to Work Day.” That’s where Pirsztuk stepped in, and before long, Boeing, DirecTV, Murad, Rhythm & Hues, and four downtown El Segundo businesses were on board.

Enter Ms. Nancy Cobb, retired El Segundo High School English teacher, who in years past was the active organizer of “Leadership El Segundo,” a program run through the Chamber of Commerce designed to build capacity for leadership among community members by exposing them to opportunities within El Segundo.  Cobb eagerly stepped in to help design the program, as well as work with ESUSD to ensure the visits to the corporations and businesses were designed with teachers’ needs in mind.  “We wanted to make sure the prevalent 21st Century Skills were the focal point of all of our conversations,” Cobb remembers.  “Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking are what the modern workplace is all about.  Teachers are eager to instill in students the skills that are going to serve them well the rest of their lives, and rose to the challenge to visit businesses and get to the bottom of exactly what that means and looks like.”

Thus fourteen teachers headed down Main Street, starting the day with a visit to The Jewelry Source and Studio Printing, two businesses gracious enough to integrate the group into their busy days.  Each business had been supplied a group of questions of interest to the teachers, based on previous surveys, so they could be well prepared for the onslaught of interest from the professional educators.  Ed Su, owner of Studio Printing, facilitated a tour of his enterprise, then settled in to address the hard questions pertaining to skills necessary to make a student a “model employee.”  Across the street, Lance Say, Manager of The Jewelry Source, did the same honors, also accommodating the inquisitive teachers.  After the visit, the teachers met and caucused on the sidewalk out front, comparing observations and notes.

Then it was down the street to visit the as yet unopened El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA), where owners Brian and Eva Sweeney met the group and took them on a tour of their jaw-dropping facility.  In addition to bringing a stupendous art collection to downtown El Segundo, the Sweeneys are very verbal in their willingness to support education in any manner possible.  Their vision is to open their state-of-the-art museum to the general public Friday through Sunday, then create programs for K – 12 Education Monday through Thursdays, as well as entertain the concept of “internships” for students from the high school with a passion for art.

The final visit of the day was with Mr. John Clark, owner of Looking, a branding and identity design consulting firm.  Teachers peppered his employees with questions about their education, the skills necessary to succeed in the world of graphic design and artistic concepts, as well as the importance of the “Four C’s.”  Then exhausted, it was back to the high school for a debriefing in the Hall of Fame Room.

The consensus?  “If an employer doesn’t like you, they’re not going to hire you,” ESMS math teacher Luke Olesiuk observed after the experience.  “As educators we’re always about the academics, so this was really eye-opening in terms of how much more goes into the building of  a successful employee.”

What struck Tony Bancroft, ESMS Music teacher, was the continued mention of “character.”  “Employers want people who are honest, decent, hard-working, dedicated to the task at hand, who step in to help a fellow employee without worrying about whether it’s part of their job description, and who positively represent the employer,” he commented.

ESHS Art teacher Theresa Kadonaga was surprised at the commonality of “must have” skills among all the various businesses in terms of what they look for in employees.  “Of the four very different businesses we visited, the skills that make people desirable were transferable across the board.  You absolutely have to be collaborative and work with others; nobody works in a vacuum anymore.  You must be capable of communicating your positions and ideas clearly -- not just in writing but orally as well.  Critical thinking and problem solving came up again and again – from designing a space to exhibit art to figuring out the perfect piece of jewelry best suited to a customer.  And as an artist what I loved most is every business agreed creativity is the major piece of the puzzle – it’s what jumpstarts an entire organization.”

Kim Stern, ESMS International Baccalaureate Coordinator, was especially thrilled with the Externship experience.  “Everything we heard about today totally translates into the core concepts of IB,” she enthused.  “IB is all about the relevancy of what we’re teaching in the classroom to real world applications – especially the notion of becoming risk-takers.  Our kids are so programmed for high-stakes testing they’re more interested in getting the answer right at the expense of trying something new.  What I heard today is employers want employees who will try something new, aren’t afraid to fail, take initiative on their own and don’t wait to be given directions on how to do and accomplish any task before them.”

The idea of developing risk-takers struck a real nerve and drove the conversation into even deeper waters, with everyone in agreement that the dependence on “getting the right answer” on state tests as opposed to developing innovative thinkers was anathema to good teaching.  Branka Cvejic, an English teacher at ESHS, was especially verbal about the topic.  “It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the new Common Core State Standards.  The are all about going deep into a topic, posing open-ended questions to students that require them to draw upon all their experiences across the board to build a reflective, analytical answer – and then back it up with research or facts from what they’re reading to defend their position.”

Tahnya Nodar, a second grade Richmond Street Elementary School teacher also saw the relevancy of the new Common Core State Standards for her young charges.  “We need to be able to allow more creative outlets for students and not so much energy going into test taking.  What I paid special attention to was the importance of listening – being an active listener is vitally important to real world success.”

Jennifer Hedayat, another high school English teacher agreed.  “Just from today’s experience I’m already reworking in my head existing lesson plans so they have more relevancy to what I saw in the workplace today,” she stated.  “I also couldn’t help but notice how what was stressed today were things we all intuitively know,” Hedayat continued. “Things like good old common sense, the ability to dress appropriately for the position, working with people you don’t necessarily like, being able to think on your feet, it was very reassuring to hear those skills mentioned repeatedly.”  She sighed, to the amusement of her fellow participants.  “Even though every single one of us drums that into our students, day after day, it was very reassuring to hear it from the outside world.

Kirsten Larsen, Richmond Street Elementary 4th grade teacher, succinctly summed up the emotions swirling around the room, which seemed to be the collective take-away from the day’s experience.  “The real world is not standards based,” she intoned, sending the entire group into raucous laughter.

“Externships El Segundo” will continue throughout the year, next visiting Rhythm and Hues and DirecTV in February, Boeing in March, and Murad in May.