Sunset always comes early in January, and when Molly arrived home from school, the darkness had already set in. At least there’s a little more daylight each day, Molly thought as she walked up the stairs on the front porch and opened the front door. Whenever she came home from school and walked into the house, she was greeted with some mouth-watering odor—a signal that Mama was making dinner. And this evening was no different. Mama’s goulash, she thought as the unmistakable odor that greeted her made her mouth water. Elbow macaroni, tomato sauce, chopped onion, chopped green peppers, and ground chuck—slowly simmered to perfection. Another secret ingredient, too, she thought. Butter!
“Home, mama,” she shouted as she rambled up the staircase to her bedroom on the second floor, threw her books on her bed and hung up her jacket. For a day in late January, it was unusually warm—not requiring a heavy coat, but, as she knew, that wouldn’t last long. Molly had just begun her second semester as a junior in high school and was an excellent student. I’ve learned how to take all the multiple-choice tests, she thought. But what Mr. Langlas talked about today, doing well in life—in almost any career—takes more than making a choice of five possible answers. That’s why this project will be fun. Gotta tell mom and dad.
Molly was tall for her age—some of her friends said that she was “gangly” – long legs and arms, and fingers long enough to play a concerto by Rachmaninoff. She brushed her long brown hair back, put on her favorite sweats and as she was bounding down the stairs, heard her father opening the front door. “Hi, Papa,” she shouted.
“Hey, punkin’,” Papa said as he took off his jacket and gave Molly a quick kiss on the cheek as she dashed through the living room into the kitchen. “How was school today?”
“Got a project,” shouted Molly from the kitchen. “With Mr. Langlas.”
Papa walked into the kitchen, kissed Mama on the cheek, opened the refrigerator, grabbed a beer, and popped the lid. “Project?” he said as he sat on a stool in front of the sink. He took a sip of the cold beer. “What sort of project? Gotta write an essay or something?”
“It’s about learning things that you ‘n Mama talked about. The kinds of things that aren’t really academic—not like math or science—but more about how you use those subjects and what else you need to know in your daily life.”
“Like on the job?” said Mama.
“Like doin’ anything in life,” said Molly. “You gotta have ‘em on the job, and just being a good citizen. Sure, you have to know math, science, history and all that, but you have to know how to use ‘em.”
“Did Mr. Langlas give you a list?” asked Mama. “There are lots of those lists of skills out there. But they’re basically the same.”
“He did,” said Molly as she pulled a small sheet of paper from her pocket. “I wrote ‘em down.”
“So what are they?” asked Papa.
“First one is communications,” said Molly. “Mr. Langlas says that it’s the skill of getting things out of your head and into the heads of others. Or the other way around. It’s reading, writing, listening and speaking.”
“That makes sense,” said Mama. “If you know a lot of things and don’t have the ability to communicate, you’re basically lost.”
“He calls the second one a production skill. It’s the ability to take something from an idea to reality.”
“In the business world, they call that ‘making it happen,’” said Papa.
“The third one is an information skill,” said Molly. “It’s the ability to gather the kind of information you need to solve a problem.”
“That’s changed since the internet came along,” said Papa. “Before you were born, the way we had to get information was to go to the library or a place like that and comb through books, newspapers, magazines, and so forth. The problem was finding the information. Now, with the internet, you’re flooded with information. The problem is to sort through all that stuff to find out what is relevant and, more important, is true or accurate.”
“He says that in order to do an analysis, you’ve gotta have information that is true. Your facts are true. Otherwise your findings and conclusions are bogus,” said Molly.
“Like a lawyer developing a case,” said Papa.
“Or a doctor making a diagnosis about a patient’s problem,” said Mama.
“Right,” said Molly. “And that’s the fourth skill. It’s analysis. You take the information that’s true, develop what he calls findings—what the information means—and from those findings, draw your conclusions. Then you can make recommendations.”
Papa nodded. “That’s the proper way to solve a problem.”
“The next skill is teamwork. Working together as a team to solve a problem. Each team member has to contribute to the effort. It’s not like being the most popular member of the team—it’s contributing to the entire team effort.”
“Like in the game of football,” said Papa as he sipped his beer. “Blocking and tackling come first. That’s teamwork.”
“Technology, too,” said Molly. That’s the sixth skill. You have to choose the right technology to solve a problem. It’s not like designing the technology—it’s using the technology.”
“Like choosing to use a word processing program to write an essay,” said Mama.
“Or like using a spreadsheet program to do financial analysis,” said Papa.
“The last one is time management,” said Molly. “Mr. Langlas said that he faces that problem all the time. He comes to school with ten things he has to do. He has to choose the three or four things that are most important and do them very well. And somehow he has to do the others the best that he can.”
“Setting priorities and focusing on the most important things first,” said Papa. “I have to do that every day at work.”
“And I have to do that every day at home—just to keep the house going,” said Mama.
“So what’s the project?” asked Papa.
“Mr. Langlas says that our team can create a community internship program for the two schools—North and South.”
“What sort of internship program?” asked Mama.
“The idea is for us to identify as many community organizations in town that we can, meet with them and gain their support for having an intern or two from one of the high schools, writing up a position description that will outline the tasks or projects that each intern will do when on the job, and then create the program.”
“That’s a big challenge,” said Papa.
“Who’s on the team?” asked Mama.
“All girls,” said Molly. “Six of us. Three from North and three from South. All juniors except for one—my friend Martha who’s a senior. She’s the team captain.”
“A team from both schools—that’s wonderful,” said Mama.
“Not like you’re competing in sports against one another,” said Papa.
“Right,” said Molly. “It’s exciting. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Molly looked at the paper she brought home.
“First, we’re going to meet, set up our project objectives and a general idea of how we’ll proceed, and draw up a work plan with deadlines.”
“Second, we’re going to meet with the principals of each school. We’re going to talk with them about the project and what we intend to do. Then we’ll write a letter of agreement to both principals outlining the project, laying out our plan for the work, our deadlines, and a brief description of what the results will be.”
“Third, we’ll spend the first week identifying the community organizations—things like the library, the elementary schools, the two hospitals, city government, museums, and the various charitable organizations in town.”
“The next thing will be to develop an interview guide. We’ll go to each of these organizations in teams of two—one of us from North and the other from South. We’ll interview the appropriate person at each and will ask our questions directly from the interview guide with no variation. Mr. Langlas says that doing it this way is the only way to ensure that our answers can be compared from organization to organization.”
“Then after we’ve finished the interview and have successfully recruited them to participate, we’ll work on drafting a position description for the interns. These will be tasks and projects that they will do on the job but they’ll be a little different from just normal tasks.”
“How so?” asked Mama.
“For each of the projects or tasks, Mr. Langlas says we have to connect what they will be doing to one or more of the skills that they’re going to learn.”
“That makes sense,” said Papa. “Otherwise, why would they be doing the task? It’s supposed to be a learning experience—not just free work.”
“Exactly,” said Molly. “Mr. Langlas said that making the connections is essential because by doing it, we can create a job assessment that the organization can use to rate the students’ performance. They’ll be rated on the quality of what they do as well as the skills that attach to the projects and tasks. That’s a different sort of assessment than simple multiple choice.”
“Indeed it is,” said Papa. “It’s called authentic assessment. It measures actual performance—not if you can select the right answer.”
“When we’ve finished about three quarters of the interviews, we’ll start our analysis of our notes to develop what Mr. Langlas calls our ‘findings.’ That will be the set of things that we’ve learned. From them we’ll start drawing our conclusions to see what it all means. Then, once we’ve drawn our conclusions, we can design the community internship program.”
“That’s the way to do it,” said Papa. “It’s a logical sequence—gather your facts, make sure they are accurate and true, develop your findings so you know what they all mean, draw your conclusions from your findings, and then make your recommendations. That’s the way it’s done in any sort of quality project.”
“The last thing we’ll do is to write our report. Mr. Langlas says if we develop our findings, conclusions and recommendations in a logical sequence, then, in essence, we’ve written our report. It should be easy.”
“You have to write a report?” asked Mama.
“Of course. We’ll do a written report using Power Point, and that will also be what we use to present the report to the principals of the schools. Mr. Langlas said that we might also be asked to present it to the school board.”
“Sounds like a big project,” said Mama. “Do you think you can really do all of that?”
“I think we can,” said Molly. “And Mr. Langlas assures us that we can. He says that students can do most anything they put their minds to do!”
“That sounds like a project that any school could do,” said Mama.
“What I like about it,” said Papa, “is that it costs the school district nothing. It’s free. The students who do the project benefit from the experience of creating something and using important skills that they will need in their lives.”
“And we think the program can serve maybe thirty or forty students at each school every semester,” said Molly.
“Over the years, that will add up,” said Mama.
“Just think if hundreds of schools did this sort of thing across the country,” said Papa. “Think of what the benefits would be.”
“Time for dinner,” said Mama.
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