I am tired of hearing about jobs programs and job creators. There is something in these terms that implies that there is a small, elite group of people who serve as the job creators, while everyone else prepares for and competes to work for these people and their jobs. In my opinion, that is a deeply flawed view of what makes the American economy great. America became great because everyone has the potential to be a job creator. What we are doing in our Tracy Learning Center (TLC) program is creating a new generation of job creators, not just workers. But frequently, when I tell people about what a great impact the TLC program is having on its students, people look at just their academic performance numbers to validate my claim. Our students do very well academically, but that is only a small part of the overall impact of the program.
To use an analogy; life is like building a house. TLC provides an education that prepares the person to be able to build the whole house, and even be the developer who builds the community. A traditional school focuses only on teaching students how to drive a nail. Clearly our students will be able to drive a nail, and remarkably, they will do it very well. So, if getting a job means being able to drive a nail, we’re good. But we’re much more than good.
Students in our program are taught how to get a job. But they are also taught how to start a company. The career program includes a unit where they work in small teams and have to take an idea and build a business around it. In other courses, TLC students work in small teams solving problems. Tis model of learning ensures that they master the traditional academic content, but it also does much more than that. As a result of their team problem-solving approach, the students learn a broad assortment of high performance skills such as teamwork, communications, problem-solving, researching, creativity, responsibility, reliability, innovation, planning, etc. Our program gives students the confidence and skills to create their own jobs, and potentially jobs for other as well. Every student coming out of school has to feel like he or she is a job creator, not just a worker. The TLC model does that very well.
On one of my trips to the school, I happened to be there on the same day that one of their graduates had chosen to return and thank the school for what it had done for him. He had transferred to the TLC as a high school student because he was having all kinds of problems in his old school – not just academically, but behaviorally and even problems with substance abuse (possibly including dealing drugs to other students). He had come back to the school that day to thank the teachers for not giving up on him and to tell the next generation of students to listen to the teachers because they care and they are right.
A couple of years earlier, he was coming to the end of his senior year and because he lacked the credits to earn a diploma was not going to graduate. As a result of the work with his teachers at the TLC, he realized how important getting the diploma was, so he asked for permission to spend another semester at the school to earn the diploma. Permission was granted, and he did earn it. He worked with the teachers and counselors, wrote letters, and got scholarships that allowed him to attend a local vocational school to learn the HVAC trades. He now has a job in the field, is seeking additional scholarships to further his education, and is already planning to start his own business. All of this success was directly related to the program and teachers at the TLC.
At the other end of the spectrum, I should also mention the story of the young female student who earned her associates degree at the local college while attending the TLC and then enrolled at UC Berkeley as a junior the fall following her high school graduation.
These are just two examples. If you take the time to sit down and talk with virtually any student at the school, you will hear some variation of these stories. The program reaches every student in some individual way. It gives them the knowledge and skills to be successful. But more importantly, it gives them the self-confidence to try.