Christmas came early for Denver Public School Superintendent Susana Cordova and the more than 93,000 students who attend each day. DPS was given a $7 million dollar gift, part of a $75 million worldwide undertaking, from JP Morgan Chase as part of its five-year plan to better prepare young people for jobs of the future.
Prior to the announcement at Pinnacol Assurance headquarters at 7501 E. Lowry Boulevard in Denver, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jaime Diamond sat down with students to hear their stories about how they have already benefitted from the innovative program that allows them to see first-hand how real world jobs are performed. DPS students are being allowed to leave the classroom to intern or apprentice at Pinnacol and other firms and learn the workings, methods and jobs of a large insurance operation or business in a variety of departments.
DPS student Angela Mendoza shared moments of her internship and its benefits before a crowd of several hundred, including Diamond, Denver Mayor Hancock, Cordova and Pinnacol President and CEO, Phil Kalin. The daughter of immigrant parents, Mendoza said she wasn’t even sure what she was getting into when she won the coveted internship. “Working in the office,” she imagined, “would be like working in “The Office,” the television show, she said getting a good laugh from the audience. “I knew nothing about insurance before I came here.” Mendoza’s parents sat nearby as her daughter presented.
Students earn credit, including college credits, for their apprenticeships. The loquacious Mendoza, who wooed the crowd with her story and ebullience, said her long-term plan is to become an immigration attorney.
Denver is one of ten cities across the globe selected by JP Morgan Chase for grants that focus on career readiness. The idea being that it’s important to arm the future’s workforce with relevant and meaningful job skills. Jobs that exist today may either not exist in the next several years or differ dramatically from what they are today. Schools may unwittingly be preparing kids for jobs no longer there.
There is also another reason for the investment. Traditional school may not be exciting or motivating for a student with tremendous potential but little interest in learning in a traditional way. That was certainly the case for high school junior, Eric Miller.
Despite the ability to achieve, Miller found little to nothing interesting or motivating about school and, for a time, thought about dropping out. In fact, he was ready to drop out when an internship at Pinnacol was offered. Miller found himself in a department where his knowledge and ability to code allowed him to contribute to the building of software bots. It led to a streamlining of Pinnacol’s billing system.
Through the JP Morgan Chase grant, said Cordova, “It will give us the ability to expand and continue this work.” The goal, she added, “is to expose students to as many jobs as possible.” It is vital, said the Superintendent, for a young person to have the opportunity to “see other professions and careers.” It “makes education even more relevant.”
“All companies need talented people,” said Diamond as he sat among the students. “It’s much better if you have the school system and businesses working together to make sure the kids get the apprenticeships they deserve by training in the courses and then get the jobs.”
Diamond said, “this effort has to be done locally.” Beyond benefitting students like Mendoza and Miller, he said, “Society needs it. We’re leaving behind too many people; we’re leaving behind too many kids particularly in inner city schools.” If a student drops, as Miller once considered, “Life’s trajectory would be very different.”