At what point should we really start working with kids to help them figure out how to know themselves, identify what they love to do, and figure out if that interest or passion could transfer into a skill that could become their life’s work?
This is the question that Jean Eddy, CEO of American Student Assistance, began to ask when she realized that despite expertise, knowledge, and passion, after six decades of effort, she and her organization were getting to kids too late to have the impact that they wanted—and had hoped—to have. The answer? Middle school.
As the student loan landscape shifted, Eddy and her team moved out of the loan guarantor and financial advising role, and asked themselves, “what do kids really need that they’re not getting?” and the clear answer was that their strength lay in partnering with young people to help them with a process. After spending years helping students and their parents assess how much they should borrow—and how best to repay it—they discovered that they were getting to kids too late, after critical decisions had already been made. They decided to dive into the national conversation happening around skills and the value of students identifying what they like to do or “what makes their heart sing” during those middle school years.
Whether it’s comedy writing, debate, robotics, cooking, fashion design, or broadcasting, ASA works to help students understand their options, hone their skills and make informed choices. They do this largely by building on partnerships with community organizations and school districts and, in some cases, funding positions within these organizations to develop mentoring programs that support career exploration and apprenticeships and even a focus on soft skills. Their local partners include the Red Sox Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston and the Hopedale school district in Massachusetts. They are also working with national organizations like MENTOR and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).
ASA embraces the belief that good jobs in this country go unfilled because of what is commonly known as the “skills gap” and they are committed to being part of the solution as early as middle school to help more kids exit high school with the skills they will need and on the track of their choice that will lead to a good paying and satisfying job or career.
Another way that ASA is impacting kids on a national scale is with new video content designed specifically for 13-18-year-olds. The nonprofit’s new website, https://www.asa.org/, features original videos to help middle schoolers and early high schoolers uncover and explore their passions.
“Despite how much time teens spend on their phones and social media platforms, there is currently a lack of programming focused on helping kids understand, unlock and explore different ways to know themselves,” said Eddy. “We’re answering that call with ASA.org, intercepting kids with compelling unique programming on platforms where they naturally spend time.”
One video features Jerimiah, a 16-year-old from Jersey City who is thinking about becoming a lawyer. He shadows Akila, a human rights lawyer, to find out what it’s really like to be a lawyer.
ASA is already working on the next phase of the site, which will help kids experiment with a wide range of career and education opportunities as they advance through their education journey.