Ms. Cheryl Austin discovered her true passion for helping others, and is on a mission to spread that passion to her students through a new Human and Social Services class.
“Certainly we want students to have it come from their heart, we want them to learn about the value and really the intangible rewards we get when we serve others,” Ms. Austin said. “I talk with students about how I was 50-years-old before I realized what brings me joy in my life: serving others. I want them to have the opportunity to figure out what brings them joy. Obviously, it’s going to be different for all of us, but for me that’s what it’s about.”
The new second level course is a new addition to the Hospitality and Human Services pathway, giving students internship opportunities in potential community-based careers.
Throughout the trimester-long course, students spend two weeks preparing for the field work and then venture out into a nine week-long experience interning at two different sites: The Northwest Indiana Food Bank and the Dean and Barbara White Community Center.
“Having the opportunity for students to have not one, but two field experiences during Human Services 2 is very exciting,” Ms. Austin said. “I worked quite a bit actually networking within the community to find employers that would be willing and able to mentor our students. These are busy people, so it’s not always easy to find people that will make that commitment, but we’ve been so blessed to find two wonderful partners right in our community.”
These two in-field experiences expose students to two different job types within the Family and Community Services pathway and allow them to explore their interests and passions for community involvement.
“Human services covers a broad area of careers, and we study five of the several career pathways within that cluster of careers,” Ms. Austin said. “So both of the employers are really in the Family and Community Services pathway…serving the community, serving families. It gives our students the opportunity to learn about what it takes to be a professional working in those types of organizations.”
Senior Saniya Spalding has used the opportunities provided in this course to explore career opportunities and to share her love for helping others.
“I feel like this is something I’ve always been interested in, just helping people in the service field,” Spalding said. “When I get older I plan to pursue a career in psychology, and even though our school doesn’t have that specific pathway it’s all kind of ties into the human services category.”
While at the sites, students work on the professional side of running these organizations, essentially getting a behind the scenes look at what all goes into the everyday upkeep and responsibilities of human service employees.
“Each site has a site supervisor, so that’s the person they check in with every day, and then they just get assigned various tasks within different departments,” Ms. Austin said. “When they’re there, the goal for the students is not for them to be on the volunteer side of the business but is more on the administrative side so they can learn about promotional materials. They’re doing a reasonable amount of marketing stuff, creating flyers, and helping with those different events going on in any way.”
Ms. Austin believes internship experiences such as these open a world of opportunities for students that they maybe haven’t even considered were there.
“One day on the bus I was asking the students the typical ‘How was your day?’ and ‘What did you do?’ when one of the junior interns [shared that] she was exposed to one of the event planners that works at the Community Center, and was really excited about it,” Ms. Austin said. “She was like, ‘You know that’s just something I just never really thought about doing.’”
“That’s really the whole goal of this: to make them aware of different jobs. Certainly you can’t teach them about every career that’s out there, and things have a way of [becoming] tangential: You think you’re going to do this, then you learn about this, and then things go back and forth, and before you know it you’re in a totally different job that you’ve never heard of before.”
Ms. Austin had a similar experience in her own educational endeavors. After she had completed and received her degree in Biology, she discovered career opportunities in Food Science, which was previously something she had no knowledge of even existing. Through her CTE experience, however, she eventually was geared into the path for her, and she now hopes to give the same opportunities in career exploration to her own students.
“It’s all about learning, whether it’s something you want to do, or maybe something you don’t want to do,” Ms. Austin said. “I get very excited about giving these students the opportunity to learn that stuff because you can’t just teach that in the classroom…I’m passionate about giving kids these opportunities.
“And yes, these careers tend to be a little less paying than many other careers, but as they’re going to learn, if they choose to pursue a career in one of these fields, it’s not always about the money, it’s about gaining that satisfaction of enjoying going to work every day, helping people, serving people…that’s really, ultimately what it’s about.”
Aside from the professional experience she has gained, Spalding believes that this opportunity has been extremely rewarding and has given her a sense of pride in her work.
“I feel like it humbles you as a person,” she said. “Getting to know your community and the people and being able to help them just makes you want to do more and to be better as a person. It just feels really good knowing that I can and am making someone’s life better… and that’s just crazy to me. I feel like being so young a lot of times we don’t think that we can impact people or make a difference, so having the ability to do that has really opened my eyes to how I can help people.”
Senior intern Amaria Hardway feels that the benefits of community service have changed her as a person.
“Our community is what makes us us,” she said. “If we don’t care about the community, the community’s not going to care about us. Getting out and helping your community is going to help you feel better at the end of the day. It makes you feel good about yourself, it’s a good feeling.”