Community Guilds – The Old-School Solution to Georgia’s Education Problems

“Imagine if every teen got their hands dirty and learned a skilled trade.”

“Imagine if every teen learned to start their own business.”

“Imagine if every teen took out – and paid back – a real loan.”

These are just a few of the provocative ideas behind Atlanta-based Community Guilds. Community Guilds is taking aim at three seemingly intractable problems that face Georgia:

1.  Georgia has one of the worst high school graduation rates in the nation;

2.  Georgia students have an even grimmer college completion rate;

3.  African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are vastly underrepresented in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology classes and majors across the state’s educational landscape.

Jason Martin, Community Guilds’ founder and director, thinks that the way to address these issues is not to look for new, innovative, ideas, but rather to rediscover an old idea, one that has long been out of fashion: having young people work on hands-on skills with an experienced mentor. Jason wants to match up at-risk youth and non-traditional learners with local artisans, craftspeople, and small business owners, in order to give students a real-world opportunity to, as he says, “tinker, design, build, fail, succeed, and ultimately create masterpieces with their own hands.” Along the way, the students are learning entrepreneurial skills, developing deep relationships with their mentors, and seeing the material results of perseverance and teamwork.

When Jason and I talked a couple of weeks ago, it became clear that he shares one important core principle with The New School: a belief in the importance of students’ having relationships with responsible adults, whom they can learn from and emulate.

It turns out the old saying is true: you really can tell a lot about a person by who they’re hanging out with. Wondering what kind of teenagers your 7th graders are going to turn into? Take a look at the teenagers that your 7th graders are looking up to, watching, and learning from. The same principle holds for high school students. We can’t expect kids to grow into mature, thoughtful, creative adults if they don’t have mature, thoughtful, creative adults in their lives to look up to and learn from. I don’t know if Jason would put it quite this way, but what Community Guilds is really about is connecting students to role models.

These are the principles behind The New School’s project-based learning, and our internships and entrepreneurship curriculum. It’s great to learn about like-minded folks in Atlanta who are doing the hard work with local teenagers. Check out the Community Guilds site for more info on this old-school program that is aiming to solve some very current problems.