With phase one of the Kew project focussing on ‘exploration’ through the lens of an explorer, part 2 of the project allowed us to build on those themes of exploration and apply them more locally to the specialist school groups immediate experience. Specifically using the spirit of curiosity that comes with exploration and applying that to their expectations of life after graduation.
These small groups from specialist schools are often daunted by the prospect of life after school. It is around this time (towards the end of their final academic year) that students are prone to nervousness and anxiety about leaving school and some begin to revert to, as a coping mechanism, more challenging behaviour. This is problematic not least because the general prospects of work, work placement or internships, and even further education for those leaving these schools are also limited. Therefore it was important for both the school and for us, Protégé, to find ways to approach this difficult transition period through approachable and engaging work and sessions.
The topic for the second part of the project took a look at young British entrepreneurs. Young people who have explored their own interests and skills and found non-traditional ways to engage with the world around them. It was felt that having young UK entrepreneurs would have the potential to bring references closer to their own spheres of experience. Jamal Edwards (creator of SBTV) had started his own visual media company simply by filming and uploading videos on Youtube of a sub-genre of music that he felt was being under-represented. Jamal is in part responsible for the rise of artists like ‘Jessie J’ and ‘Ed Sheeran’. These names are more immediate for them and made the project feel relevant to them, and through these contemporary cultural references were opportunities to explore current skills that are required for post-school life.
Whilst part 1 of the Kew Project on Hooker, flora, and exploration across all the sessions, each session in part 2 explored a different young entrepreneur and a relevant skill for the groups to develop:
1) Ben Towers: Personal branding and logo design, and getting the groups to look at their current skill-sets.
2) Fraser Doherty: Product design, group and teamwork, and an introduction to presentation skills.
3) Charlotte Pearce: Buying and selling items online, letter writing / communicating through writing skills.
4) Jamal Edwards: Writing and performing a poem/rap, and interview skills (with a focus on body language, eye-contact, and behaviour).
5) An in-depth session on applying and interviewing for specific jobs; what skills, hobbies, and interests do you have that might be relevant? What are good questions to ask?
6) Recap session to finish any existing work.
This intention of this project design was two-fold.
The first being an effort to see how smaller more intensive one-off sessions would work for the groups over a project length. Would the learning from previous sessions carry over to subsequent sessions if the content of each was different?
The second was as a reaction to the problem of this latter-term ‘disengagement’. What kind of impact would sessions, that pushed the growth of self-confidence, have on the students own expectations of their post-school options and direction?
The answer to the first question was, yes! The young groups were not only able to recall information from earlier sessions, but the various activities had enough synergy with each other than the important skills were always being built upon. An example of this was that each session always had an element of presentation to it. Students were always expected to present their work. The second session required students to present their ideas as a group. At the end of each group presentation we highlighted the areas in which they could improve; to not talk over each other, to stand up confidently, to not look bored whilst others were talking, etc, knowing that this would be building towards sessions 5 and 6 where they would have to do mock-interviews and talk about their interests and hobbies in greater depth.
With the entirety of the sessions being focussed on their own ideas and ambitions, each of the groups showed a marked improvement in their ability to express their ideas with growing confidence. One of the biggest growth areas for the students was in their communication and presentation abilities. We always asked them to go one step further, to explain things one level deeper, and by the latter sessions the students were starting to do that more comfortably and at times without prompting.
A clear example of this was through a student who is a selective mute. Though they took part in the sessions and did the work, they would not contribute verbally at all. By the end of the sessions, this student came to the front of the class and was almost verbalising entire words and sentences. The teacher and teaching assistants commented that this was a huge achievement.
Not only does this demonstrate the effectiveness of the Protégé approach over a short period of time, it also highlights our effectiveness in building comfort and rapport with hard to engage, and hard to reach young people, which is critical in helping take a young person through an intensive learning experience with positive outcomes.