Apprentice Learning

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Helen Russell  I  Founder

Helping to educate Boston's future workforce.

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Helen Russell is an educator with a lifelong passion for experiential education. Helen founded Apprentice Learning in 2012, after two decades of developing and directing programs for the Boston Public Schools and Outward Bound. She enjoys finding adventure in everyday life.

Apprentice Learning provides real-world workplace experiences for at-risk middle school students, leveraging career exploration to teach skills and to nurture dreams. Our career readiness programs teach essential workplace practices and highlight the link between academic and professional success.

Apprentice Learning (AL) uses career exploration to support the transition from middle school to high school, open pathways towards higher education, and expand students’ social networks to link them with opportunities to thrive. One of the few nonprofits providing career education experiences for Boston’s middle school students in the workplace, AL partners with schools to teach career skills and help students enter the workforce fully equipped for success. We engage over 60 local businesses that volunteer to mentor a young person during an apprenticeship, or host a group of students for a one-day workplace exploration. Research shows that teen employment is linked to improved employment and earnings outcomes later in life, and teens from low-income families tend to have low employment rates (Brookings, 2014). While most teen work experience programs focus on high school students, we believe that career exploration in middle school is highly impactful, particularly for underserved teens.

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More students fail ninth grade than any other grade in high school, and a disproportionate number of students who are held back in ninth grade subsequently drop out. Ninth grade attrition is far more pronounced in urban, high poverty schools (Education Digest, 2010). Unemployment rates compound this problem. In Boston and nationally, Black and Latino teens are unemployed at twice the rate of whites. Starting early makes a difference? Why? Imagine you are a young person gazing out from your neighborhood at the Boston skyline. Those iconic buildings: the Prudential, the Federal Reserve, 60 State Street, are nameless, faceless places for most of the students we serve. Our vision is that after an Apprentice Learning experience, a young person can look out over the skyline and not only be able to name those buildings, but also understand what happens inside and most importantly, imagine themselves as professionals working in one of those buildings in the future. This is our Skyline Project. Apprentice Learning wants to enlist the help of Boston’s downtown community to help demystify the skyline for middle school students by extending a young person’s sense of community beyond the confines of their neighborhoods to include all parts of the city, especially those areas like the Seaport and the Financial District that offer much economic promise.

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1. Summer Job Employment for Rising Ninth Graders Each year for the past three years over 40% of students who completed an apprenticeship landed a paying summer job. In 2016-2017, this increased to 48%, even as our program participation grew.

2. Growth on the Holistic Student Assessment (HSA-R) The HSA-R is used across the city to measure social-emotional growth in seven subscales. In 2016-17, Apprentice Learning participants experienced positive changes on all of the seven subscales of HSA-R, and statistically significant changes on five. Over 75% of students reported positive growth in Academic Motivation and Learning Interest, which sends a strong signal about the impact of the AL experience on school engagement.

Now I know what it takes to get a job and how to act in a professional environment. I also know that it takes a lot of responsibility to complete a task or job. Even eye contact allows the other person to know that you understand what they’re talking about.
— Ariel, Jackson Mann School