ROCHESTER — Jonathan Roman has a plan, and the experience he garnered from a partnership between the Rochester City School District and Rochester Institute of Technology is serving as a worthwhile guide.
The 18-year-old June graduate of East High School will begin classes at Monroe Community College this fall. After earning his associate’s degree in liberal arts, he plans to transfer to SUNY Oneonta. His goals are to become a buyer for a company such as Macy’s and then someday own his own clothing business.
Participating in the Future Business Leaders’ Experience (FBLE) at RIT’s Saunders College of Business this summer provided him with skills and real-life business knowledge that will help him as he works to achieve those goals, Roman said.
"It allows us to think a lot, use real critical thinking," said Roman, who also is working daily at Seabreeze Amusement Park. "They (students) tap into what they could do potentially in the future."
The RIT summer program developed from a relationship the university had established with the International Finance & Economic Development Career School at Franklin High School to expose students to the college, said RIT professor Delmonize Smith. Last year, the district created its version of a New York City program called Public Education Needs Civic Involvement in Learning (PENCIL), which has partnered New York City businesses and schools for more than a decade. When that program was created locally, Smith said that he felt the university’s college of business should join forces with the school district to not only offer students college preparedness but to give them an edge in working on real challenges that local businesses face.
FBLE pairs 16 Franklin High School and East High School students interested in finance with local minority-owned businesses, including Smith’s human-resources and information-technology development company. Each company is facing an issue that the students deal with together on Saturdays at RIT and independently during the week, Smith explained. The students also will gain public-speaking experience when they present those solutions this month.
Smith said that the main reason for establishing the initial relationship with Franklin in 2007 was seeing "the significant need to make an impact and make a change in what’s currently going on with the school system as far as graduation rate and those kinds of things. When the school district announced the PENCIL partnership, it was a good opportunity to contribute in that way."
During the Saturday sessions, the students interact with college students and faculty and get a glimpse into life on a college campus, which also will help them realize the opportunities open to them, Smith said. In addition to learning how to use new technology, the students also learn cooperation and negotiation as well as brainstorming by working in teams, he added.
"We’re building global leaders today for tomorrow’s world," said Franklin Finance Principal Ali Abdulmateen. "Just exposing students to college-level work, we think is a nice experience for our students. … It’s about college awareness and readiness."
That is part of the PENCIL mission, said Nydia Padilla-Rodríguez, who oversees the program. She noted that Rochester’s program — which kicked off last fall with business owners and executives coming into their partner schools and acting as "Principal for a Day" — has partnered 83 businesses with 65 schools.
"What we’re trying to do through these business partnerships is have businesses really connected with the kids so that they can see, ‘Wow, these kids really want to succeed,’" she said."They’re (students) just looking for resources to get them from point A to point B."
Padilla-Rodríguez said PENCIL’s three main objectives are:
- To develop strong leaders by providing staff and student training and resources.
- To improve school environments by boosting parental involvement, adding technology and increasing student attendance.
- To enhance students’ learning experiences by creating opportunities for career awareness and job and college preparedness.
Many companies have brought groups of students to their sites to further expose them to potential careers, she added.
"The kids are learning business skills and entrepreneurship," Padilla-Rodríguez noted. "The learning they’re able to experience is fabulous because it’s hands on."
The partnership is mutually beneficial as well, because local companies are able to give back to the community and have a great impact on improving the city’s future as a whole, she remarked. She credits school district Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard for having the vision to bring PENCIL to Rochester after witnessing the program’s success while he was principal of a New York City high school, Padilla-Rodríguez added.
"PENCIL gives (students) hope and the strategies to create change for the betterment of our community and the creation of our future leaders who so happen to be our kids," she said. "We’re showing them the possibilities."
Roman said that he hopes students also are able to show Rochester’s business community through RIT’s FBLE program that they have the creative skills and intelligence to produce good solutions so that the program continues for students in future years.
"It makes me really proud to be a part of this, to show we’ve got it," he said. "We can do it."