By Louisiana Fellow David Schexnaydre
The answer was a kind, but firm, “No.” I got on my knees and gave a final plea.
It was January of 2001 and I was a Senior at Destrehan High School in Destrehan, La. Somehow, I’d been scheduled into a Law Studies course for my final semester of high school, and after only one day in the class I knew it was not a good fit for me. I made my case with the assistant principal to have my schedule changed, but she was having none of it.
“Besides, you may end up liking that class,” she said. “They compete in the Louisiana Mock Trial Tournament every year. You may be good at that. You have a lot of the skills that the class requires.”
Her explanation fell on deaf ears. My plan for my final semester of high school consisted of taking it easy and hanging out with my friends; not spending it toiling away reading through a mock law studies case and sitting in classroom reading affidavits, listening to rebuttals, and cross-examining fake witnesses.
My plan, however, was irrelevant. I was in Law Studies and I was staying. My dreams of exhibiting the symptoms of “senioritis” vanished into a cloud of dust.
A funny thing happened on my path paved with doom and gloom, however; I wound up loving the class.
I made friends with the students in the class and we rallied around the idea of being the first team in the school’s history to win Regionals and make it to the State Finals. We spent hours poring over the specific language in affidavits, anticipating cross-examining questions, and deliberating over the best way to pave a line of questioning to get a witness to spill the information we were looking for. We’d get together for hours on weeknights and weekends, trying to gain an edge on the competition. We enlisted the help of one of the Judges from our local judicial district to get some advice. We even taped ourselves and broke down the tape to find flaws in our presentation and fine-tune our approach. We were maniacs.
The result: we were indeed the first team from Destrehan High School to win the Regional Mock Trial Competition and compete in the State Mock Trial Finals.
I reflected on this experience as I drove home from the first Educator Voice Louisiana Fellowship Convening. Tasked with creating a new college and career readiness course for the students of Louisiana, we’d spent hours engaged in productive sessions that highlighted the changing economy and the working world that our students will soon enter. After meeting with employers from different fields and looking at data about what skills our current students need to be successful once their formal schooling commenced, it was clear that employers need employees with “soft skills.”
I thought about the soft skills that I use as an adult, and I tried to think about when I developed them or was forced to use them growing up. How had I learned to be a good communicator, a contributing member of a team, and a critical thinker? What were the stimuli that helped me become organized, hard-working, emotionally intelligent, and adaptable?
This line of thinking led me back to the law studies course. Never once were these skills explicitly mentioned in class, but in order to achieve our core goal, we had to use them and we had to use them well. I likely had some of these skills prior to the course, but this real-world application forced me to put these skills to use at a level of depth that was never previously required. Indeed, it has been said that the true test of someone’s skill and aptitude is having them apply it in unpredictable, real-life settings. That’s exactly what the course required us to do. While soft skills weren’t the focus of the course, they were absolutely a byproduct. I didn’t explicitly know I’d need those soft skills in my everyday life and career, but I do, and fortunately, I have them. I have my experiences throughout my education to thank for that.
All of this leads me to the main point here: the world is changing and students are going to need not only academic skills, but soft skills as well. Many of our current students will be employed in jobs that likely don’t exist yet. How do you prepare someone for the unknown? My guess: you create environments in which they obtain and hone skills that will help them be successful in any context. And that’s essentially what we’re tasked with as a Fellowship. Over the coming months, we’ll pore over research, deliberate over the smallest of details, write and revise curriculum and plans, and explore how to best prepare our students for the uncertain future. The hope is that it culminates in a career readiness course that prepares the students of Louisiana for the future, no matter where the future brings them or what the future entails.
I always meant to go back and thank Mr. Glen Greene for the environment he created in that Law Studies classroom. I never made the time to visit him though, and he passed away only a few weeks ago. I’d like to think, though, that instead of me thanking him, he’d be just fine if I helped create a new course for the students of Louisiana that does for them exactly what he did for me.
That’s the vision, and I’ll spend the next 16 months working with America Achieves, the Louisiana Department of Education, and the rest of the Fellows making that vision become a reality.