Career Mentor Circles Program Benefits Middle School Students in Irvington

fullsizerenderbill-edwardsWhat do a landscape architect, tennis pro, food caterers, “kitty” therapist, author, art teacher, occupational therapist, technology manager, and 30 middle school students all have in common?  They all participated in Career Mentor Circles (CMC), a new outreach initiated by Social Justice Team (SJT) in partnership with the Union Avenue Middle School in Irvington.

The genesis for CMC grew out of a conversation with Union Avenue Principal Muller Pierre in September.  In an effort to expose his young students to the wide variety of occupations and professional careers that exist, we explored the idea of pairing working adults with middle school students to share information about various jobs and potential career interests.  As Mr Pierre said, “Many of our students have too much idle time during the week.  Instead of watching TV, they could be learning about potential career fields and jobs that they didn’t even know existed.”

A proposal was written for a series of 3 evening Career Mentor events, where adults from our church and other area professionals would briefly present to 7th and 8th grade students and parents an overview on what they do for a living.  Each presenter would describe to the audience:

1) How they became interested in their career field

2) What training is required for their field

3) What is a typical day-in-the-life of their job   

Afterward, smaller group conversations would be held with young learners that want to hear more about a particular field of work.

In mid-November, the CMC proposal was approved by the Irvington Board of Education.  The pilot event was held at the school on November 29.  A pizza dinner was delivered for attendees, with healthy sides provided by SJT.  Our nine presenters shared thumbnail sketches of their occupations – Gary Nissenbaum discussed how to become a writer; Claudia Thornton showed some examples of her landscape designs for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden; Bill Edwards brought his therapy cat Angelina, who he said instantly causes your stress level to go down; Kate and David Smith-Cooper told their story of building their catering business to include a staff of 25; Christina Benson talked about her experiences as a high school art teacher and textile designer; Jean-Bernard Kitao-Kitao engaged everyone with his story of learning to love tennis at a young age – he said it made him happy because unlike soccer, he could be in control of the ball!

Mr Pierre was encouraged by the turnout for the event, which garnered a lot of positive feedback and smiles all around.  We will hold two more Career Mentor Circles events at the school, on January 17 and March 14.  Please contact Brian Halpin ( if you are interested in participating in an upcoming session.  As Bill Edwards put it, “Many kids – especially kids of color – are desperately in need of guidance/mentoring to help them prepare for their life journey.  If only one child benefits from our efforts, it was a great success.”

-by Brian Halpin