How did an 8th grader turn his passion project into a summer job?
He was taking apart a lawn mower. When asked why, he shrugged and mumbled something about how another student might need an engine part for their project. His Brainado project was undefined. He didn’t seem to have much of a plan other than tinkering.
Fast-forward four months and Connor is getting paid to work part-time at the Waterbury Service Center garage. He knows his way around the shop, has learned about persistence and problem-solving, and gleaned plenty of life lessons from Albert Caron, the owner and lead mechanic. But how did Connor get from Point A to Point B?
How did he connect with a mentor?
Crossett Brook Middle School makes sure that students have the chance to connect with mentors to provide guidance.
Students access information about the interests and expertise of every staff member in the school. They also consult a list of external mentors from the community.
Here is a request written by student leaders that was posted regularly in Front Porch Forum and emailed to parents by the principal.
Hey folks! We are Crossett Brook Middle School, and we are looking for some volunteers to help with Brainado.
Brainado is a program where kids will explore and discover a topic of their interest. For example, sports, performing, writing, building, research, community service, etc. If you want to see some examples of what students did last year, check out this highlight video.
So if you want to help a student in grades 5th through 8th, there are many options. You could come to the school to supervise and consult, you could be available for questions through email, or you could meet with students at your place of work or through video calls.
If you have time or expertise to contribute, please sign up using this Google Form and we will be in touch soon.
The Brainado Student Leadership Team
Connor found Albert’s name in the mentor list and started interning at the garage during Brainado sessions, along with a few other students. As Albert put it, “Connor showed the most interest and stuck with it the longest, so when I needed extra help I hired him.”
With an “all hands on deck” school-wide approach to personalized learning projects, students can access internal and external mentors that match their needs. Once the connection is made, nobody knows where it might lead.
What were the benefits of working with a mentor?
In addition to automotive skills and a paying gig, Connor got a lot out of his personalized project.
In an hour at the shop, I personally witnessed Albert teaching Connor about the history of cars, walking through each major school subject and it’s connection to automobile repair, and dispensing advice about owning a business.
Albert often noted that school was the number one priority. Connor shared insights about problem-solving, persistence, and team work that directly transfer into the school setting.
Community mentors like Albert can offer so much in terms of reinforcing, expanding, and grounding the most important learning that goes on in schools. Personalized projects are an important strategy for unlocking these powerful educational assets within our communities.
Albert has worked with a number of interns over the years but he thinks that middle school is the right time to start exposing students to possibilities:
“I think the younger they are, the better we can help them out. You can catch them at a young age where they can learn and retain and be interested. Because once you get someone that’s 16 or 17 years old, they’re already ingrained in certain things. They’ve got other things on their mind like a car and trying to get ahead and make money which is more important than actually learning a trade. But Connor here … he actually wants to learn a trade.”
Connor isn’t interested in becoming an automotive mechanic. He is more into small engine repair and talks about starting a business of his own one day.
But he is happy that he has started exploring and gaining skills already.
Connor plans to keep working at the shop and to seek out more hands-on self-directed project opportunities in school. He offered this wisdom for students about their Brainado projects:
“Don’t choose something easy. Choose something you are not going to want to give up on … this I didn’t want to give up on because I was actually interested in it. … Also, get a mentor, because with a mentor you’re more likely to stick with it.”
Sounds like some good advice.
I won’t be surprised if Connor does start a successful business some day. And when he does, I’ll bet that he will provide some fine mentorship for the next generation of middle schoolers.