Utilizing my Personal Network During Distance Learning

 I am, and always have been, inspired by people pursuing their passions. 

My passion has led me to pursue a career in education. 

As an educator and facilitator of learning, I am deeply curious about the pivotal moments that “make” or “break” our passions. What moments inspire us to follow some dreams and interests and give up on others? 

For me, it was all about who I knew. Throughout school, I had a wealth of educators who shared their passion for teaching, learning, and caring with me, and inspired me to become a teacher. 

And while I had working parents and friends with working parents and multiple part-time high school and college jobs, it wasn’t until now, in my mid-twenties, that I have come to realize the vast network of professional opportunities that exist. 

My personal and academic networks did not uplift diverse professional narratives. I could be a teacher, a nurse, a lawyer, and maybe a financial advisor (because that’s what my dad did). 

Thankfully, though, the young people I work with everyday are greeted by a more transparent and tech-facing world. Their access to learning about and exploring highly-specific career paths is more vast, which is especially the case at Odyssey STEM Academy and other Big Picture Learning schools. 

Internship experiences, job shadows, and informational interviews make deep connections between young people and the professional world that enable them to see beyond highly-visible careers and into a world of interest-based professions.

It has them asking questions like, “how can I turn activism or video gaming into a career?” 

During this time of distance learning due to the current COVID-19 quarantine measures, it may seem like this community-facing outreach is on pause, depressed by work from home mandates. But the way I see it, our work is just getting started.

Recently, I hosted a “Brown Bag Lunch,” as Keith Nuthall, our principal, would call it. 

A Brown Bag Lunch is a place, first and foremost, to connect. 

The week prior, I reached out to my personal network of friends and peers, inquiring if anyone would be interested in filling their mid-day hour with a group informational interview with high school students. Four women -- a teacher, an equity and inclusion specialist, a marine engineer, and a public relations consultant -- immediately jumped on the opportunity. 

We set the date for March 24th at 12:00pm. 

In the days before, I set up the informational interview protocol with the team of professionals. The first 10-minutes would be a chance to share their personal career story in a breakout room of interested scholars, then they’d move to 15-minutes of Q&A. 

We connected with our scholars, creating a shared Google Doc of information and the rooms filled up. In the days leading up to this experience, questions were written and background research was done. 

On the day of the call, I logged into my Zoom window to find a large and growing virtual room of 50 young people and four professionals, eager to connect. After about five minutes of Zoom sound checks and technological manoeuvring on my end (manually creating breakout rooms for such a large group is challenging!), the groups were created and off went four virtual classrooms of scholars and professionals ready to share.

For the duration of the 30-minute call, I hopped between chat rooms, truly in awe of what I was seeing. 

Professionals in radically different fields, in geographically distant places, were connecting with our network of scholars, painting a picture of “life after high school.” They shared their professional trials and tribulations, discussed being unsure of what career track to follow, and answered heartfelt and deeply curious questions. 

A personal favorite question that was asked: “What do you get out of your career mentally and emotionally?” 

For some scholars, that might have been a blip on their radar, a 30-minute call where they learned more about a previously mysterious career. But for some, that conversation might alter their personal trajectory. It might have illuminated a career path they had never heard of and now want to pursue more deeply. 

Regardless, it inspired me to seek and make as many connections as possible during this period of distance learning. 

It was a reminder that I didn’t even know I needed. Our personal networks are far more vast that they seem, and human capital is truly the most valued resource we have. 

In the midst of all of the uncertainty that a global pandemic causes, there is grounding in human connection, especially when that connection is triggered by a shared passion.

Courtney Wright is a founding member of Odyssey STEM Academy in Paramount, CA. As a Humanities advisor, she and her team have undertaken an ambitious goal: to reimagine high school and empower young people to own their learning. After completing a social justice oriented teacher preparation program in her home state of Nebraska, Courtney taught as an English teacher at LAUSD and WCCUSD comprehensive high schools before joining Odyssey. She is passionate about providing equitable access to meaningful and inspiring learning for all students, particularly those in high-need areas. Courtney is building expertise in cross-curricular design and instruction, developing community through restorative practices, and purposefully integrating technology in the classroom to enhance learning and student growth. She is fervently optimistic and is devoted to advancing student-centered public education reform.