By Tom Gaudioso
Earlier this month, Jesus Reyes, who arrived at Common Ground as a reserved freshman, demonstrated his growth into a young man with a strong voice and a solid message as he took the stage on the New Haven Green. He spoke with a voice that was sure, booming, and powerful. He described his plans for the future – studying environmental science at the University of Maine, and moving toward a career as a conservation officer. His words caught the attention of several news outlets – and of the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, who invited him to meet officials at DEEP and go on a ride-along with an environmental conservation officer.
Not all Common Ground students are travelling the same path as Jesus. Fatou, one of our juniors, is more interested in biomedical engineering than environmental science. Elmer, a senior, sees his future in law. Stephanie, another senior, plans to study animal science in college.
At Common Ground, we are constantly asking ourselves: how do we help every student travel their own path to college success, a meaningful career, and community leadership? We do this in many ways every day. We strive to equip our students with both academic understanding and real-life skills necessary for college application, college success, and career achievement.
One of my main goals as Green Jobs Corps (GJC) Coordinator is to provide experiences that encourage them to tap into and recognize these skills and abilities as well as develop new ones, so that they will lead a fulfilling career. The question, of course, is how can I help make that happen?
The first part is a strong belief in our students. I believe all students at Common Ground have skills that make them employable, and the ability to be leaders in the workforce. My job is to help them highlight and develop their skills and interests.
What is GJC? Green Jobs Corps is a paid environmental internship and leadership and career development program open to all Common Ground students. Interested students apply for the program at the beginning of the year. This year, we have 57 active GJC students. GJC members take part in at least one paid job during the year as well as career development workshops. Workshops are run weekly during our school support period, and the curriculum focuses on one career topic each session: resume/cover letter writing, job search/application process, job advancement and more. Students also present at conferences, visit workplaces to expose them to career paths and attend presentations with professional speakers.
For all the students mentioned above, Green Jobs Corps has formed a critical part of the path to college, career, and leadership. Stephanie stepped up as a manager of the student-run business venture that raises chickens for eggs and meat. Jesus interned with The Nature Conservancy, and worked on the crew that built a new bridge on our campus. Elmer led programs for kids at New Haven Farms. Fatou is part of a crew building gardens across New Haven. While doing this work, she happened to connect with Yale scientists, expanding her network of support for her goal of becoming a biomedical engineer. You can tell a student about the benefits of getting out in the community, but experiencing it cements it.
More than just offering jobs, then, Green Jobs Corps focuses on building transferable employment skills, and helping students identify personally meaningful careers. This focus on personal growth comes out in how Marcel, another college-bound Common Ground senior, explains his experience in the program:
I would describe Green Job Corps as a positive, fun, learning-based program. This program grants you ways to make yourself be excellent in the future…Green Jobs Corps helps to unlock your potential and to make your skills be very useful to the environment and the community that you live in.
Not every student will have the opportunity to speak at a podium with an audience of thousands, but every student at Common Ground will have opportunities. I want to be sure they are guided to develop the confidence and skills to take advantage of each one.