Each year Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS) leads their students into the Thanksgiving holiday by fanning them out into the community to volunteer and experience the ways of the working world. Ninth grade students choose to participate by doing community service at non-profits such as Unity Shoppe and Hillside House, while seventh and eighth grade students are taken in by local businesses for Career Study week. And this year, Santa Barbara Middle School’s sixth graders will create a video highlighting the difference between a job and a career.
SBMS Learning Specialist and 6th grade teacher, Caroline DeLoreto, along with Kyra Lehman, Proximity Theater founder, says this year’s sixth grade theme is to explore: “What makes life worth living?” The students will interview cooks, farmers, Hollywood studio executives, the homeless, and passers-by on our local streets. “Our intent is to focus on what it means to be human, what gets you up in the morning; making kids aware of their options, and encouraging them to find work that makes them excited.”
A true hands-on exposure to the real working world during Career Study week is the goal for the seventh and eighth grade students. Local businesses of all kinds show SBMS students the ways of the business world with a 25-hour work-week. Admissions Director, Whitney Ingersoll, spearheads the program. “It’s a real gift what these volunteer companies are doing to help our students. Our school really appreciates it.”
Ingersoll says the list of benefits for the students is endless. Not only do they participate in the operations of these businesses, but they learn how to write a resume and business letter, how to make a business phone call, how to dress professionally, and how to shake hands and look someone in the eye. Above all, the students learn how to communicate with adults, and they learn if the job and the work environment feels right for them. Ingersoll says, “This week stretches our students in all different directions. When it comes time to get a real job, they are a step ahead.”
SBMS student Hannah Dwelley says this experience builds character. “It helped me to not give up. I was rejected by so many places before I finally got my job. I had to stay persistent.” Eighth grader Aliana Sherrill spent a week at a retail clothier. “You meet a lot of different kinds of people. Some nice and some not so nice. It teaches you how to better prepare for a real life job in the future.” All students are evaluated on their off campus adventure.
Ninth grade students stretch even further as they step out of their comfort zone to volunteer helping Alzheimer’s and cerebral palsy patients, children with cancer, and pre-school children whose parents are looking for work, just to name a few.
SBMS Spanish teacher Kelly Rosenheim has coordinated the ninth grade volunteer program for 22 years. Her own experience as an SBMS ninth grader in 1982 was profound. “My ninth grade year, I volunteered at Montessori Center and that was one of the first moments I realized I liked this teaching gig.” She says the experience dissolves fear and generates empathy with the students because they see a human face along with the disability.
“By ninth grade it’s about giving back to the community. It’s important for our kids to work with different populations of people they aren’t normally exposed to. Nine out of ten times our kids come back completely changed; walls and stereotypes have been broken down.”
On the back of every SBMS bike jersey reads the school motto, “Go with gratitude.” Rosenheim says this Thanksgiving week curriculum is another gratitude awakening. “They develop a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve their community and expand beyond themselves.”