Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pancakes and Perspectives: Connecting with 6th Graders at Clarke Middle

Last year my colleague Jill Severn and I embarked on a new outreach experience – the Adopt-A-Class program. This is a relatively new program which brings Athens area business people into local middle schools to promote career education and development.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – since when is the Russell Library a “business”? Well, it isn’t exactly a traditional business, but it certainly has products and services and patrons, and is part of UGA. In addition to the Russell Library, there are representatives from lots of departments and programs at UGA that participate in AAC that reflect the innumerable kinds of jobs within a University community. The purpose of these visits, which happen once a month over the course of the school year is to introduce 6th, 7th, and 8th graders to a variety of career possibilities that they might not have heard of before. Through these interactions, the students learn that much of what they learn inside the classroom does have a real world application and, maybe even more importantly, that interests and talents in subjects at school can translate into a career after graduation from high school, college, or beyond.

What do we do in our hour long presentation for 6th grade classes at Athens-Clarke Middle School? Jill and I have developed a presentation that helps the students consider what it will take to obtain their “dream job.” We tell them a bit about what we do – which can be complicated to explain, as “archivist” (believe it or not) is not a traditional career path that the average middle-schooler is familiar with. We talk a bit about what we dreamed of doing at age 11 – lawyer, writer, veterinarian, actress, astronaut. And then we tell them about how we found out we loved history but didn’t want to teach in a classroom or do research full time. And then bam! We sort of used our likes and dislikes to find a career path we love that involves things we’re good at and enjoy doing. In addition to all the good, we’re also pretty frank about the pay scale – so we deliberate the tradeoffs that we face in our own work

After the overview (which likely takes less time to say than it did for you to read here) we use a dream job handout to help the students explore some basic questions about the job they hope to have. What will a typical day be like in this profession? Will you work with others or alone? Inside or outside? How much money would you expect to make? How much education do you need to be successful in this career? We ask for individual volunteers to tell the class about the career they’ve chosen and their answers for some of the questions on the sheet – usually with help from their classmates. Almost always, you can see light bulbs turn on in the room – realizations about what having that job might mean, what some of the benefits and tradeoffs might be.

The most popular dream job for students is that of a professional athlete (soccer/baseball/football/basketball) – especially among the young men in the room. As facilitators in this discussion, we encourage this interest, but also make sure to challenge some notions about becoming a professional athlete – particularly what happens if you become injured or just retire after a standard number of years (5-10) and are still looking to engage in a profession. We use the deliberative dialogue approaches we use with the Russell forum to help students weigh the tradeoffs and explore alternatives. We get them to consider what else can they could do that is related to sports if and when they can’t play anymore? And more light bulbs come on – coach, announcer, reporter, team owner, physical therapist, nutritionist...the list goes on and on once they get going. We like to think the key is just to help them start asking the right questions that connect their interests to the future, and end by giving suggestions for where to look for more information. Naturally, we promote visiting the local library! As well as shadowing, using search engines to browse, and asking their teachers and school administrators for advice on where to look next.

This past Tuesday (8/31) was our first session in our second year of Adopt-A-Class. We walked into the classroom with more confidence than last year and, as always, we walked out with a sense of accomplishment. We met future professional athletes, a future lawyer, a future FBI agent, a future fashion designer, a future paleontologist, and several future teachers, but alas no future archivists…yet! We have tweaked and tailored our presentation over the course of the year, but are still looking for new ways to engage with these students – whom we only see once during the year (a different 6th grade class each visit). We journey onward, but if anyone has creative ideas for career development in this setting, or you want more information about the Adopt-A-Class program, send us a note at

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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