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Magnolia Project connects Guerneville Middle School students with business mentors

You may have noticed a few new faces if you shopped or visited a local business in Guerneville in late March, thanks to a partnership between the Magnolia Project and the Guerneville School District. The initiative seeks to foster meaningful connections between local businesses and the youth of Guerneville while allowing students to learn a skill, explore a career path and gain real-world experience.

As part of the district's newly formalized Community-Based Schools model (a multi-year, collaborative program primarily funded by the California Department of Education), school administrators and program facilitators learned that children in the river community hold a deep connection to the people and places they call home. When interviewed, students share they want to go to college and return to raise families and become leaders in the river community.

The District partners with many local nonprofits, including West County Health Centers, West County Community Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin, River to Coast Children’s Services, Gravenstein Health Action Coalition (GHAC), and others. In Fall 2022, The Magnolia Project partnered with Guerneville School District to facilitate a ‘pilot’ externship program for students in 7th and 8th grades. The Magnolia Project, directed by Gianna Biaggi, promotes experiential learning pathways to connect students with adult mentors in industries or nonprofits that excite and inspire them.

“We know that when students are engaged in relevant, adult-world-aligned learning, they are more likely to attend and be on time for school, graduate from high school, and pursue their meaningful next phase of life,“ Biaggi said.

After a 7-week in-school externship boot camp highlighting professionalism and basic job skills, 56 7th and 8th-grade students worked closely with a mentor for three days at a local business or agency. Students chose from 25 hosting partners in Guerneville, including bakeries, social services, coffee shops, environmental nonprofits, spas, art galleries, hospitality, pharmacy, library and more.

Pilot programs don't always go as planned, but the externship program was widely successful. Guerneville school English teacher and Externship Site Coordinator Jessica Glentzer believes teaching children the soft skills to foster human connections is more critical now than ever. “Externships were a powerful way for our students to strengthen these skills while also gaining insight into what a real workday contains,” Glentzer said..

Beyond the job skills, the students simply had a lot of fun. “I witnessed our students hopping with excitement, glowing with joy, and bubbling over with stories about what their mentors said or did throughout the day. It was glorious to see them engaged and brimming with excitement,” Glentzer shared.

Students also shared their enthusiasm for the program. “It has made me realize that there are some really cool, amazing people in our community, people who are creative and want to actually connect with kids. It made me appreciate the community a little more,” shared 8th-grade student Anya Templin who worked at College Confectionista.

8th grader Kasie Coupe thought her time at the Guerneville Regional Library prepared her for future job hunting. “Not only did it help me with my externship, but it gave me some insight on how to get a job in the future because you have to do a resume and an interview, so being able to have practice with it will set me up successfully in the future to get a job,” she said.

“I was able to enjoy the process of the hands-on learning and the visual learning of how editing is really done and how it can help someone to better understand technology for it,” said 8th grader Legend Mullinx, who worked with AVFilm to create a student mini-documentary about the externship experience.

Preparing students for future success is a significant component of the Guerneville school district's mission, and the externship pilot program highlights this goal in action. “Externships have proven to be an ideal means of meeting every one of the objectives laid out in our mission statement: career and college readiness for all students, whole-student health, and local-to-global leadership and sustainability,” Glentzer shared.

As a pilot, the program will continue to be evaluated and adjusted to better serve the students of Guerneville, but based on feedback, the experiment was a success.

“I learned things I never thought I would learn,” said 7th grader Abby Vittori who spent her time at Guerneville 5 & 10, a response echoed by other participating students. Based on the overwhelming request to continue, the Guerneville School District intends to offer and expand the Externship Program for the 2023-2024 school year.

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