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These Students Think Your Office is Awesome

Sunday, January 26, 2014

These Students Think Your Office is Awesome

The nibbles were ready. The nametags too. Nervous energy coursed through the air as a crowd of suits stood in the lobby having conversations, all the while looking over their shoulders, thinking, “Could he be the one?”

It might have been any other networking event in the District of Columbia. But this one was extra special—tonight, January 14, was the DC Public Schools (DCPS) Competitive Employment Opportunities (CEO) Kickoff, and teens from DCPS high schools were about to be paired with volunteer mentors from companies and organizations across the city.

The goal of CEO program is to give students with disabilities more opportunities to explore careers and develop skills that will help them compete in the global economy, while also giving mentors and companies a way to be involved with the community and even help shape prospective future employees. Nationally, young adult employment rates for individuals with disabilities are typically half that of their non-disabled peers. This program seeks to change that.

Students with disabilities are paired with a mentor and take professional development courses to sharpen their skills. They work together on a capstone project culminating in a student presentation to the rest of the cohort. Then, during the summer, students work at their mentors’ offices.

In its second year, the CEO program received over 170 applicants for 30 coveted slots to partner with almost 20 organizations spanning fields such as food services, consulting, entertainment, marketing, finance, and including The Discovery Channel, Citibank, Northrup Grumman and the Department of Justice.

After the mingling portion of the evening in the National Youth Transition Center lobby, Dr. Nathaniel Beers, Chief of the Office of Specialized Instruction, gave short remarks to the crowd, explaining why this program was so important:  “We want to make sure every student in DCPS has a real choice about how they’ll spend their adulthood and succeed.”

Then came the moment everyone was waiting for: the partnerships were announced! Mentors came up to the stage and shook hands with the students as they met for the very first time.

Alumni of the program were also on hand to give advice. Owen Duffy, now a senior at McKinley, interned at the Advisory Board Company last year.

“I learned about networking, making connections with people, professionalism, and more,” Owen said.  It helped him become an adult, because “growing up means having skills to make money.”

Newly paired students, parents, and mentors gathered together to get to know one another. Some mentors were new, others had joined last year and were back for more.

One of the returnees was Thomas Hayes, from the Office of General Counsel at NASA. He recounted his experience with his mentee, Darrell, who had worked on a storm water project last summer.

Hayes’ own children had grown up and he was looking for a way to reconnect with high school students. His mentee had become a regular part of the office that summer, up to the final project.

Said Hayes, “I was concerned at first because Darrell was quiet.  But he did great during the presentation. He really knocked it out of the park! It was really rewarding.”

We could always use more mentors! For more information, check out dcpsceo.com or email Raymond Hutchison at [email protected].