A Day in the Life of a LINK Leader

Posted on Thursday, August 2, 2018 by Melissa Howison

Three adolescent students stare at the Google Sheets page open on the laptop in front of them. Each hopes for creative and amusing descriptions of features their mythical beast could have (Does the tail glow in the dark? Are its eyes blood-red?). Destiny, Janeya, and Madison are in a coding class, and their assignment is to build a “chimera,” or fictional monster, using the digital concatenation skills from their LINK Leaders Summer class.

Let’s Invest in Neighborhood Kids (LINK) Leaders Summer is an educational program for 7th–10th grade students that develops career readiness, entrepreneurial skills, and enthusiasm for the fine arts and STEM through enrichment classes, field trips, and service-learning projects.

Janeya and Destiny work on their concatenation skills in coding class.

Concatenation is the operation of stringing things together, and the LINK Leaders Summer coding students have learned how to use Google Sheets commands to initiate it. Each group of students produces five words or phrases to insert into each blank space in the sentences about their chimera’s tail, like setting up a Mad Lib the computer will finish.

Once they’ve typed each option into a different spreadsheet cell, they build the concatenation code to reveal a computer-generated sentence about their chimera’s tail (The tail kills people that are close. It is a long and narrow shape and ends in a stinger.). There are numerous outcomes, determined by what choices the computer makes; much like a day in LINK Leaders, determined by what choices each student makes.

Dakota and JaHahn work together on a project in coding class.

This group of students has chosen coding as an enrichment class. Destiny, a rising 8th grader, likes it because “it’s fun when you work on stuff with your friends and your partners.” Another group of LINK Leaders is across the hall designing t-shirts in their enrichment-class-of-choice: Visual Arts presented by partner, Art with A Heart.

The art lesson on this day aligns perfectly with the field trip the LINK Leaders took to The Foundery, where each student screen printed their own t-shirt. Dejah, a rising 10th grader, mastered the screen printing process quickly. “I liked the screen printing,” she said. “Then we went around the shop and saw some things that I had never seen before and it was pretty great.”

Dejah teaches Jordan the screen printing process at the Foundery.

The art teacher is thrilled they’ve seen a professional creative work space and begins class with a discussion about the experience. Kobe, a rising 11th grader, tells her about the cost for students to use the equipment at The Foundery. “Do you see how it’s possible—and that was my other wish—is that if you find an interest sparked…you could do that. $10 for a day is cheap, cheap, considering that if you sell t-shirts, you’re going to be able to get that back,” she responds.

LINK Leaders teachers contextualize the knowledge they impart with real-world and professional applications, which challenges the students to contemplate how it fits into their futures. For Destiny, The Foundery was it. “I’m going to go back,” she said. “I’ll probably ask my mom can I take classes there, so I can learn more stuff and get a job.” Destiny, who loves building things, never knew engineering and other building professions could be so experimental and exciting until seeing the workshop that morning.

Kobe and JaHahn work together to screen print a “Baltimore” logo on a t-shirt.

The trip to The Foundery, like all LINK Leaders field trips, was the singular activity choice for the morning. It involved every student, as did the career panel at the end of the day that featured Nigel-Ray Garcia from Baltimore Corps.

Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, the LINK Leaders participate in an hour-long career panel with visiting professionals from different fields. On this day, Nigel has come to talk with them about how he found fulfillment in the nonprofit sector and consult with them about their goals and expectations.

Nigel listens as the LINK Leaders share their plans and goals.

“Let me ask a question,” Nigel says. “Is there a difference between a job and a career?”

JaHahn, a rising 9th grader, is quick to share his thoughts. “A job is just something you do for the money; a career is something you love to do that you also get paid for,” he says. JaHahn tells Nigel he wants to play professional basketball, but that he’s also considering technology and communications as options that would prepare him to work with the NBA if not as a player.

Nigel continues sharing his experiences, probing the LINK Leaders with questions about what they want to do and what steps they’ll need to take to get where they want to go. He encourages them to think about their goal-setting habits. To the question “Why are goals important?” Dejah responds, “If you have nothing else to look forward to, you can look toward your goals.”

Nigel pauses to appreciate the wisdom in her answer. It seems clear to him that this is a group of individuals with incredible drive and potential. He also recognizes the example he can set to help them achieve it. He reminds them that obstacles in life are inevitable but temporary and can be overcome with an open mind and a little effort.

“You’re only going to find those opportunities when you rely on your network. Rely on your leaders here in the room and your peers to help share those resources.”

As LINK Leaders 2018 draws to a close on July 27, it’s clear the students have developed valuable strengths as well as built a network among each other, and with the VLP staff, that will support them as they set out to conquer the future.