Most teenagers spend their last few years at home attending high school, taking their core classes and a few fun electives. Caught up in pep rallies and school dances, the farthest teens think into the future is Prom at the end of the school year. The juniors and seniors enrolled in the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), however, have something else in mind.
CAPS is a nationally recognized, innovative high school program which takes students out of the typical classroom and provides them with real world learning experiences. Students fast forward down their career path and are fully immersed in the professional culture. In the Francis Howell School District, 13 student CAPS associates have taken on this challenge, and used it to give them an edge in their career advancements.
“The Center for Advanced Professional Studies has helped me see what actually happens in a work environment, and how people work and collaborate with each other. Now I will know what to expect in the future,” said Howell Central Senior and CAPS Associate Dimitry Robertson. “It prepares me for what I will need—the tools and the knowledge I will need to get into a career I would like.”
Planning to go into cyber security, the Technology Solutions strand of CAPS has helped Robertson gain an edge in his career going into college.
“Having a mentor has helped me realize how advanced I am in my field of choice. I always thought I was behind the curve, but I’ve come to find out I’m learning relevant things,” said Robertson. “Having a mentor has helped me get more inspiration to do what I want to do.”
It’s not every day that a place of business has high school students as associates. But, for Charter Communications, they see this out of the ordinary program as an extraordinary opportunity.
“I think it’s absolutely fantastic having high school students in our office. They make us think differently, and this program helps provide them with great opportunity,” said Senior Program Manager and CAPS Mentor Alyson Horn.
As a mentor, Horn is tasked with college and career guidance, resume and LinkedIn reviews and regular meetings with her mentee.
“Being a mentor has made me appreciate the challenges that young individuals face. It has given me a new understanding that young kids are looking for jobs in business already,” said Horn.
Being based out of Charter is a unique opportunity for not only the CAPS associates, but also the corporation.
“This has all been far more rewarding and better than we ever anticipated. The opportunity to build the next generation of talent is something we all strive for. It usually starts in college, but we all believe that needs to start much earlier,” said Group Vice President of IT at Charter Communications Craig Lalumandier.
CAPS Technology Solutions associates can also take advantage of regular business projects with industry partners.
“Having these business projects has helped me learn stuff I would not make a point to teach myself on my own. I thought I really had no business learning the language of html, but through this project with MarketVolt, I have learned it. It’s just another language to add to my tool arsenal; you can never know too much,” said Robertson.
Aside from partnering with business for projects, companies such as MasterCard, Enterprise Holdings and HydroMat will also open their sites for visits, tours and job shadow opportunities for the program.
“Having this career exploration piece is necessary; connecting with business professionals and onsite visits are critical,” said Center for Advanced Professional Studies Instructor John Omoresemi.
A class this exceptional has to have a unique curriculum. Designed by current business professionals, what the students learn is guaranteed to be relevant in the workplace.
“Our curriculum here is dynamic, developed in connection with business partners. It is based around where the industry is going and is much more than just learning from a textbook,” said Omoresemi.
The CAPS syllabus contains three weeks of professional skills boot camp, in which students learn about the professional skills of communication and collaboration, time and project management, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving and integrity and trust. To fully understand these concepts, associates learn through the process of the five C’s: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication and choice.
“The biggest benefit of the CAPS program is the opportunity for students to develop their soft skills,” said Omoresemi. “We know these skills are valuable in any career setting. Whether a student decides to pursue a technology-related career, or business, or even in the medical field, we know these soft skills will be transferable. Technical aspects of a job can be taught, these are the skills employers are looking for.”
Robertson said he has learned professional skills like how to talk to an adult and properly shake a hand.
Learning these skills now will definitely help me in the future because if I waited to learn them until I needed to use them I would not be as successful,” said Robertson.
Though associates are honing in on future career opportunities, they are also ruling out areas that haven’t peaked their interest—which has proven to be just as beneficial.
“If kids know what they want to do we can expose them to that career field they are interested in early on in high school. Associates get a sense of whether or not they even like the profession or want to do it,” said St. Charles County Center for Advanced Professional Studies Director Nicole Whitesell.
Currently, Technology Solutions is the only CAPS strand available in the Francis Howell School District Center for Advanced Professional Studies program. Other CAPS districts, however, offer Medical Advancements and World-Wide Business Strands, which will be incorporated in the coming year.
In the 2018-19 school year, five school districts including FHSD CAPS will combine to form the St. Charles County Center for Advanced Professional Studies Program. Adding these additional aspects of strands and school districts will expand the CAPS program and open up more opportunities for associates.
With the program enrollment looking to expand, the current associates have been the biggest advocates for this alternative education. Robertson would recommend the CAPS program to other students.
“Yes, it’s fun, but it’s something you have to be interested in. It helps students learn what they actually want to learn rather than sitting in classes they are not engaged in,” said Robertson.
Looking five years out, the St. Charles County Center for Advanced Professional Studies Program looks to keep expanding through adding strands and increasing enrollment. Though this alternative education expects substantial growth, the program is committed to never losing its roots of 30-second elevator pitches and professional skills handbooks.