Learning Life Skills at Hope High


For the past eleven years, Stephen Cronin, president of Rhode Island-based marketing company TwoBolt, has been teaching students at Hope High School in Providence. His Life Skills Class meets once a week throughout the school year and includes in-depth conversations, field trips, and numerous guest speakers. The concepts introduced to the students include personal brand, leadership, change, success, and hope – all discussed within the context of American history and popular culture. Students learn skills such as networking, communication, collaboration, creativity, empathy, and inquiry, as well as an understanding of how these skills can affect their lives and help them to achieve their goals.

Mr. Cronin has created his own textbooks to provide thoughtful reading for his students, and he has a website where he posts homework and questions. He stresses to the students that the messages they put out into the world, whether spoken or implicit, deliberate or unconscious, will impact their futures. Through their readings, field trips, and class discussion, students have the opportunity to make connections – not only with the world around them, but also with other students, mentors, and local companies. Each student gains insight into habits and behaviors that potential employers look for, while he or she learns to create a resume that highlights personal strengths and career objectives. Students also create their own business cards to be used in networking.

The Life Skills class enjoys tremendous community support from local businesses such as CVS, TACO, Gilbane, AAA, and Cox Communications (to name a few). For example, Junior Jabbe, Executive Manager of Business Development and Customer Relationships at Banneker Industries, visited the class in January. He spoke about the importance of finding the “element” that he was passionate about and how that helped him to create change in his own life. He explained that, by pushing himself out of his comfort zone and expanding his network, he benefitted from greater opportunities in life. Mr. Jabbe told the students, “Keep forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. When you find yourself nervous and uncomfortable, you know you’re in a good place and probably creating a new opportunity for yourself.”

At the end of March, the Life Skills class visited CVS’s corporate offices in Woonsocket. Senior Director of Advertising Production Carlos Sanchez and Specialty Pharmacy Account Executive Jose Cid spoke to the students about the CVS brand as well as the qualities the company looks for in its employees. During small breakout sessions, students had a chance to meet with representatives from the following departments: pharmacy, marketing/promotional planning, information technology/app development, marketing/copywriting, supply chain management, procurement/vendor relationships, store operations, and graphic design. The company even treated the class to lunch and held a networking session so that students could make personal connections with CVS employees.

Hope High School has been very supportive of Mr. Cronin’s class; although Mr. Cronin is not a certified teacher and he is not reimbursed for his time in any way, the school administration has ensured that the Life Skills class has a place to meet during Advisory period once each week. In addition, because Mr. Cronin’s students need access to their class website, they have been granted wi-fi access on campus. Through sponsorship dollars raised by Mr. Cronin, students who meet the program expectations through perfect attendance, consistent completion of assignments, and commitment to class goals are given personal tablet computers. Students are also eligible to attend the National Youth Leaders Conference (NYLC), a week-long event in Washington, DC for outstanding high school students from around the nation. The costs of participation in this event (around $3,000 per student) are also covered through corporate sponsorships solicited by Mr. Cronin.

Local universities and colleges also provide support to the Life Skills class. Students from Roger Williams University and others have served as guest speakers, sharing their experiences with the students and offering advice and encouragement. Early last month, two students from Suffolk University’s Entrepreneurial Studies program spent the morning with the Life Skills class. One of the young women, Salyna, explained why she and her classmate had left Boston at 4:30 that morning, arriving in Providence with plenty of time to spare: “I hate being late. It’s a sign of disrespect. Whenever you’re late, it essentially says to the person you’re meeting ‘your time is not important’. Being late doesn’t help your brand and certainly doesn’t help you get or keep the job you want.” This is the kind of life lesson that means more coming from a peer than from a teacher.

There have been many success stories that have come out of Mr. Cronin’s class over the years, but one of the most dramatic is the story of a young woman who was born in Guatemala, came to the United States as a teenager, and took the Life Skills class at Hope High. She enlisted Mr. Cronin’s help to attend the NYLC, and while she was in DC, he arranged for her to visit and tour Georgetown University, the school she later received a full scholarship to attend. Life Skills students have also earned paid internships at CVS, area law firms, and other local businesses, paving the way for future employment.

This program is an excellent example of how much can be accomplished when the local business community and the schools collaborate. The Life Skills class is far more than a Career Day; this program fosters leadership and self-motivation. Mr. Cronin volunteers his time to plan and teach this class. Wouldn’t it be great if other local businesspeople gave their time and expertise in this same way? What if a programmer from GTECH taught a coding class? Or a product designer from Hasbro offered a course on design? Imagine if each high school had networking evenings during which students could benefit from meeting professionals in various fields. If more businesses were willing to donate their employees’ time, and more schools were willing to allow them access to the students, just think how much stronger our whole community would be.

This post also appeared at GoLocalProv.

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