“When you design a school, you need to understand that students learn outside those four walls.”
With those words, Building 21 co-founder Laura Shubilla introduced—and summed up—the Citizen Speaks event Tuesday night that delved into a paramount issue for Philadelphia: The importance of engaging city corporations in the business of educating students.
Shubilla was joined on stage by Citizen columnist (and the evening’s moderator) Jeremy Nowak; Vetri co-owner Jeff Benjamin; and realtor (and Council-at-large candidate) Allan Domb, whose idea for how to bring more Philadelphians into the workforce prompted the evening’s discussion. Domb’s big idea: Encourage businesses to create technical training curricula in local high schools.
The panel’s discussion was followed by comments from the crowd of educators, business and civic leaders and interested citizens, including School Reform Commissioner Bill Green, who said that we can fix our schools within 10 years with the right resources and focus—even, perhaps, by authorizing more new charter schools this year.
Here are some of the other highlights:
Domb noted the city’s 26 percent poverty rate, and the fact that businesses struggle to find qualified workers. By giving businesses a say in how future workers are trained in high school, he said, both businesses and students benefit. He posited that such a plan might entice businesses from out of the city to move here for the chance to develop curriculum and train future workers. “All I want to do is make sure these kids get a job,” Domb said.
The Vetri Foundation for Children does some of this already, offering healthy eating programs in schools and working with Building 21 on a cooking class. Benjamin noted it was about good citizenship, and also good business. “Even the most selfish in the business community will benefit from a talented workforce,” he said.
Shubilla, whose school offers students real-world training in subjects of their choice, provided an important case study of getting industry insiders’ take on curriculum. One group of students at Building21 was interested in video games and coding. While educators at Building21 suggested they teach students one coding language, Shubilla sought the input of those who work in the business. The insiders suggested they teach a different language, one that wasn’t outdated like the school’s first choice and which would serve the kids for years to come. The idea, Shubilla said, is not that we ask high school students to pick their careers, but that they develop valuable skill sets that can serve them well across a lifetime. “We’re not asking 14-year-olds to pick their career for the rest of their lives,” she said.
What would the panelists change to make this happen?
- Shubilla: The culture of “this is how we’ve always done it,” to allow for more innovation and experimentation in how schools teach and train students.
- Benjamin: Institute a Department of Business Interaction in the SDP, and have Superintendent Bill Hite and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers head Jerry Jordan attend school in Philly every Friday.
- Domb: “All of life’s lessons, I would teach them.” First up on Domb’s life curriculum: balancing a checkbook.