Wheels Up

Topics: Early College High School, Education Policy, ESSA

My daughter Kate is off to have an early college experience that will help her explore future opportunities. The first time she packed her bags to fly, she packed her purple Dora the Explorer backpack with her boo bunny, her blankie, some crayons and her favorite pop-up book, Guess How Much I Love You. We boarded a plane together, hand-in-hand. My daughter, Kate, was barely two.

And today, she’s taking off, solo, for the first time – two weeks shy of her 16th birthday. She’s headed to New York City, alongside dozens of other students to attend the National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF): Business Innovation – 8 Days to Startup.

Housed on Columbia University’s campus and other various locations throughout the city, the program focuses on business creation, globalization, personal leadership and career opportunities in business across industries.

The invitation came by mail back in February. A flurry of text messages and Snap Chats filled with excitement from Kate were sent. “Can I go? Can I go?”

We read all the package of materials, combed through the NYLF website together, watched videos. Kate texted with others to see if they had gone through the program and learned very quickly that this was an amazing opportunity – even highlighting in orange pen: “The program provides high school scholars with the opportunity to gain insight into the various aspects of the business world, challenged by real-world business issues through interactive simulations, hands-on workshops, informative seminars and site visits.”

The National Youth Leadership Forum (NYLF) focuses on business creation, globalization, personal leadership and career opportunities in business across industries. “Mom! Read this… I can choose from Columbia University in New York, or Stanford or UC Berkley in California!! OMG. How did I get this? Who nominated me? Is it because they think I’m a leader?”

Amazing, right? As a parent and communications / marketer by trade, who happens to also work for an education organization that champions early college exposure, business and community engagement and personalized learning experiences that engage young minds, my eyes were big – excited for her. I saw that spark – that wide-eyed enthusiasm and belief that she could do this. Someone believed in her and nominated her for this unique opportunity and she was going to go for it.

She saved babysitting money, cash gifts from family and monthly allowance. When choosing between a new cute shirt and setting aside more money for New York, she picked New York.

I took her to open up a bank account. We went shopping for business attire – two new blazers, professional length skirts and dresses, closed toed shoes. I was beaming and a little teary eyed. My little girl was growing up.

Last night, she was highlighting her itinerary. Noting her keynote speakers; sessions on goal development, business case discussions, meetings with venture capitalists; skill development workshops from design challenges, to business cases development, public speaking and leadership; and of course, the excursions: Wall Street, various college campuses, Central Park, Madison Square Garden… and following the program, her extended cultural stay to visit the sites of New York, including the Empire State Building and Times Square to watch a Broadway show.

As we look at the future of learning, the future is now. And we as a nation need to consider the design of programs like those seen in Envision, to transform the culture and structure of learning.

Kate’s program is a tremendous early college opportunity designed to challenge students’ abilities and provide them with a foundation in business that can be used to start up their future, no matter what their aspirations are.

It’s real-world experience with multiple, high-quality approaches to personalized learning that is supporting Kate and other learners who attend, in pursuing the right combinations of learning experiences and supports, enabling many possibilities for how, when, and what people learn and addressing their non-academic needs. This one happens to be eight days. Imagine if the design principles of this program extended into our current structures of learning to embody a wider range of settings, platforms and diverse learning agents that enable students to create individualized learning opportunities and experiences that reflect their particular interests, goals and values.

She’s texted me a couple of times from the gate at the Raleigh-Durham (RDU) airport. Delayed. ‘Should I call the program advisor to let them know my plane will be late?’ That’s my girl. Responsible, strong, excited about what the future will hold. And while I will always see her as that curious toddler with a Dora backpack strapped to her back, I know the strong foundation we have built as parents, in partnership with her teachers at Wake County Public Schools, her coaches and mentors throughout our community and these kinds of learning opportunities have helped her to grow her wings.

Wheels up honey. I’m so proud of you.

Article by Cris Charbonneau