Start Up Studio: New BBMS class gets students looking inwards to ponder the possibilities of future careers
February 7, 2024 at 10:30 p.m.
Blind Brook Middle School eighth-graders Nathaniel Lim (left), Ryan Brown and Dylan Kaplan work with their teacher Andre Soto during the 11:20 a.m. session of their Start Up Studio class on Monday, Feb. 5. Soto, alongside fellow teacher Laura Gomez, developed the class to help students learn skills that will aid in their future professional lives.
(David Tapia/Westmore News)
A shake-up in New York State requirements has changed how Career and Technical Education (CTE) is taught in the classroom. Now, schools are obligated to dedicate more time to CTE courses at the middle school level.
To meet the new provision, Blind Brook Middle School elected to create an entirely new class dedicated to the task at hand.
Laura Gomez and Andre Soto, who teach design and digital media production, respectively, developed a new curriculum geared toward teaching children to start homing in on professional skills. The teachers spent most of the last school year working on it.
The change in CTE requirements could have been incorporated into the current curriculum, according to Soto, as the mandate calls for more time dedicated to the topic for students in grades 7 or 8, not a new class.
“We had options, but we wanted to try something different,” he said. “We wanted to try something completely new.”
The teachers saw that while several students had a general idea as to what career path they would like to follow, they had difficulty specifying what exactly they’d like to do in those desired fields.
Marcus Wengrofsky (left) works with his teacher Laura Gomez and classmate Lucas Albanese on an assignment for the Start Up Studio class. The students, along with the rest of the eighth-graders at the Blind Brook Middle School, are the first to take the new mandatory course.
By David Tapia
“I have a lot of students who say they want to be a lawyer, and I’d tell them that there are so many different types of law they can go into,” Gomez said. “I’d ask them ‘Is there something that you can connect your interests to?’ Maybe they want to be a criminal lawyer, corporate lawyer or insurance lawyer.”
The Start Up Studio class, launched this school year, helps students narrow down those options.
The new, mandatory course is designed to help students with occupational planning earlier in their academic career and teach other life skills in the process. However, while it is a career-centered class, Soto emphasized they aren’t asking the eighth-graders to make lifelong decisions.
“We wanted to do something that was career-based, but we didn’t believe in saying these eighth-graders needed to figure out what their careers were going to be,” he said. “We wanted it to be more about figuring out who they are, and then finding out what their options are.”
To that end, Soto and Gomez ask students to look inwards.
“We spent two weeks with them just having them to think about themselves. They don’t get the chance to do that anymore,” Soto said. “And a lot of them admittedly said they never thought about this kind of thing. We heard kids saying they didn’t know they liked so many things.”
“There was a lot of introspection,” Gomez added. “We didn’t just ask them what their interests were, but what made them like those things.”
The teachers, who have backgrounds in the arts, then had students create visual representations based on their findings and present them. It’s part of the vision the teachers had in mind while creating the course.
“The academic goals of this class are presentation skills, brainstorming, research and reflection. But our vision is to have this class lead up to a capstone project we can celebrate at the end of the year,” Soto explained. They’ve been slowly becoming more hands-off with students as they develop their skills. “We started out small, guiding them, and then giving them more, and leaving them on their own.”
Their main point of research has been the United Nations’ “Global Goals,” a list of 17 objectives leaders want to achieve by 2030. They include objectives such as ending world hunger, eradicating poverty and achieving gender equality.
Groups of students were assigned one of the goals and told to create a presentation using the medium of their choice, encapsulating what the issue is and how the general population can help achieve it. Some made PSA-style videos, while others chose to exhibit skits or posters. It was something of a preview assignment of what’s to come.
The class will culminate in an independent project at the end of the year, which will see students use the skills taught by the teachers and what they’ve learned about themselves along the way.
“The idea is they create a start-up company that addresses a global goal and creates some sort of product, service or initiative that helps fix or address it,” Gomez said. They’re in charge of coming up with the branding, business identity and designing a prototype if they choose to.
“All the work we’ve done is to give them the foundational knowledge of how to do the project,” Soto said. “They need to know what the goals are, what an entrepreneurial mindset is, what their interests are and turn it into a presentation of some sort.”
They’re still in the process of building that knowledge and skill base in the students, but the teachers are confident the class will be a success.
That’s not to say there haven’t been growing pains.
“We told the students from the get-go that this a new class,” Soto said. “There’s going to be some bumps, there's going to be some things that we planned out and then might not work out very well. That’s just the nature of teaching.”
Their first hurdle was getting students accustomed to something unfamiliar.
“They came in this year and were told they have a totally new class,” Soto said. “Up until this, for us, eighth grade was sort of an extension of seventh grade.”
Soto said middle school students have difficulty acclimating to the unknown. “It was a challenge because kids are historically thrown off by anything new. If any of us come in with even our hair different, they’ll get on us about it.”
That feeling came to a head earlier in the year when a group of students presented a petition to the educators.
“The petition came from an assignment we gave them to write a reflective essay,” Soto recalled. Some students called for less work and more class time.
“I think the word ‘essay’ kind of scared them because we’re the teachers who are known for arts related projects, not essays,” Gomez added.
“But we were actually really excited hearing about the petition because it plays into the things we’re trying to get them to understand,” Soto said. “When you’re in the workforce, you aren’t always going to get what you want, how do you go about getting what you want?”
According to Soto, the teachers were able to use the situation to their advantage, turning it into a teachable moment. It was a lesson in self-advocacy and opened a new line of communication between the kids and teachers. “Not only was it exactly what we wanted from them, a reflection, it was a real-world experience,” he said.
Since then, the teachers said students have appeared to be more engaged in the class. “There are a ton of kids who are enjoying it,” Soto said. “We hear the kids talking about what we’re doing here. Not necessarily the class itself, but the content, which is all we want.”
Tatum Schwartz, an eighth-grader currently taking the class, said she sees value in the lessons. “I feel like it’ll get us ready for both college and life after college,” she said.
Her classmate, Birch Lane resident Oliver Wilk, added: “I’m enjoying it. I feel like it’ll help me narrow down what I want to do in the future.”
The teachers believe that as time goes on, and with more practice, the program will continue to improve.
“We’re trying something new. Knowing that, in the next couple of years, as we refine and modify it, hopefully we’ll get to our vision.” Soto said. “But each year, we’re going to build on it.”