New Career Day-Style Program at Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of South Shore Thrives in Distance Learning Environment

 In Camelot Blog

Career day is a widely adopted high school event that typically follows a formula: an auditorium of white-collar professionals each standing behind a table of pamphlets and flyers while waiting for students, clad in their best business attire, to muster up the courage to introduce themselves.

At Excel Academy of South Shore in Chicago, staff and students were ready for a new approach.

“Career day was always the same,” said Wanakee Trask, the Chicago school’s student services specialist.

Using the students’ enthusiasm as a guide, Trask recruited speakers who work in fields more closely aligned with their interests in becoming YouTubers, video game designers, actors, chefs and cosmetologists.

“Those aren’t career paths we’d normally cater to,” she said, explaining it required school staff to rethink how to introduce students to a wider variety of professional pathways.

The change in thinking led to the launch of “Elevate Greatness” at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Hosted by Trask, Elevate Greatness brings together a panel of entrepreneurs and other local business leaders. The panel discussions are incorporated into the school’s existing Business Wednesdays, which take place on the first Wednesday of every month. To keep it light and relatable, each Elevate Greatness event gets a title that will engage the students, like “Soul Food” for the panel that featured professionals from the restaurant industry.

“The best thing about (the program) is that it is more like a conversation, there is no pressure,” Trask said. “We want to put as many people in front of our students, especially people that look like them, as often as we can.”

While a high school student might show interest in creating the next Overwatch or Fortnite, the Elevate Greatness panelists, like video game designers, also shine a light on how their skills are applicable and transferable to other industries too.

“We had one who designed games for doctors for how they have to handle different situations in the medical field,” said Director of Student Services Tirrell Taylor, who was inspired to implement Business Wednesdays by his own experience as an undergraduate student at University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Business majors at the university were required to wear a tie, a button-down shirt, and dress pants once a week, Taylor said.

“Changing the way I dressed opened up more doors for me,” he said. “That was the same thing I wanted to show our students. Presentation is everything.”

When Excel Academy of South Shore, part of the Chicago Public Schools Options Schools Network, closed its physical location and adopted distance learning practices, as a part of the State of Illinois response to the coronavirus pandemic, Elevate Greatness made the transition as well.

“It helped us step our game up,” Taylor said, “because now we are doing them every week.”

Elevate Greatness was shifted to Facebook Live – a purposeful decision, according to Trask and Taylor.

“You have to go where the students are; you have to go where your audience is at in general,” Taylor said. Other video conferencing services were considered, but Excel decided against them since it required students leave the platform they are already on, Facebook, and create a log in for another online program.

Trask also says Facebook Live gives Elevate Greatness a chance to reach even more students. Additionally, it has been easier to book guests to join the sessions because some have more available time due to the current environment, and they can participate from their homes instead of traveling to the school.

“We know a lot of students are not dealing with this lockdown easily,” Trask added. “And [Facebook Live] gives us opportunities to reach our students and their friends too.”

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