Dear Diary, Part II

Vicky Powell of MEC with Workforce Development Director Meredith Gunn (pictured right) at a recent educational fair.
Vickie Powell of MEC with Workforce Development Director Meredith Gunn (pictured right) at a recent educational fair.

October 29th, 2015

Dear Diary,

During the week of October 12, I traveled to classrooms across the state to promote Careers In Energy week, armed with my website and pink dry erase markers and stress balls that were likely used to bean other students in the hallways as soon as they walked out the door. We partnered with members of both MEI and the Mississippi Energy Workforce Consortium—including Entergy, Atmos Energy, Mississippi Power, and Chevron–all of whom brought local employees to talk about their day-to-day activities, educational backgrounds, and home lives. We used the site to navigate through their careers and provide information on how to pursue each position.

In this whole Get On The Grid process, I’ve struggled with getting adults to buy into the idea students could be engaged in what some refer to as “yet another educational resource.”

They hear it all the time, it just seems like more work.”

Why do you want to reinvent the wheel?”

“We already have that. They don’t listen anyway.”

And you know what? These doubting Thomases (Thomi?) are right. Perhaps I forgot how much I hated listening to teachers drone on about testing scores and college applications. And I forgot how stupid they sounded as I slumped in my desk, willing the clock to move faster, itching to go to ball practice.

So no, students aren’t interested in yet another educational resource. But if you think students aren’t paying attention to their futures, you’re flat wrong. You haven’t talked to them one-on-one, and you haven’t spent time in these classrooms. You haven’t listened to their questions.

Do you think this job helped you get out of your environment?”    

“I don’t have a dad at home. Can I stay near here so I can take care of my mom and still go to school?”

“Can I make enough money to take care of my little brothers and sisters? They depend on me.”

“Did your friends support you, or did you have to go out on your own? That’s hard, man.”

(Don’t mind me. Crying? No, it’s allergies, I swear.)

So they’re right. Some kids don’t care about test scores–because test scores don’t pay bills, and they don’t feed hungry kids, and they don’t provide community.

Now, in my mind (and in the minds of most of you, I’m sure)—of course test scores matter. Test scores mean scholarships, scholarships mean college, college means better jobs, better jobs mean more money.

Here’s the problem: that’s a dang long trajectory, and some of these kids can’t wait 4 years to take care of momma and little brother. Is this just laziness? A byproduct of the ever-popular “millennial mindset” that so many use to explain away everything wrong with the under-30 crowd? Perhaps I take personal offense to that (OK, I definitely do), but I call foul.  They have more motivation, more heart than most adults with whom I’ve spoken.

So drive is not the problem. The problem is providing a roadmap that directly connects where they are now with where they want to be—and soon.

I wish I could bottle the looks on these students’ faces when I show them how much money they can make with these jobs. How quickly they can get degrees. How working hard has a direct, almost immediate impact on their future. Seeing that face dispels any argument that students aren’t engaged in their futures.

Do we leave these students to focus on test scores in the now, or do we draw their eyes to the horizon, where a brighter future is waiting? Do we send them to secondary education and training programs with no lantern, hopping precariously from one stepping stone to the next because they can’t see beyond that?

I refuse to do that. You know what, some students are lazy. Some simply don’t care. But the majority? The majority need a roadmap. They need a resource that provides a connection between test scores and an increase in their standard of living in the foreseeable future. They need a resource that encourages them to hone their work ethic because it actually does matter in life—and not just because some says so.

That is the heart of Get On The Grid—bringing a bright, realistic roadmap to a better future to a generation that craves immediacy and visual stimulation and that beg answers from the bigger picture.  So yeh, call me crazy, but I’m pumped—and so are Mississippi’s students.