Building Career Pathways for All Students
Melissa Silberman is an educator, impassioned leader, and former troubled student. These elements of her education and career trajectory uniquely qualify her for the position of deputy executive director of the Office of Postsecondary Readiness for the New York City Department of Education.
Silberman describes the impetus behind her 15-year career in education: "I was a poor student in high school. I just had the normal problems teenagers have and wound up completing high school through an alternative pathway. Someone commented, 'You are actually really smart. You should consider going to Vassar College.' At the time, I had never even heard of the college. Eventually I became acutely aware that good kids fall through the cracks all the time, not because anyone is intending it, but because it is easy to stray from high school and college pathways. I vowed that when I completed my degree at Vassar, I would focus my career on education."
Access to High-Quality Education Contributes to Civil Rights
Silberman's commitment to education is deeply rooted in her belief that providing young people access to high-quality education has a big impact on improving civil rights: "It gives students exposure and entry to fields they would not otherwise have considered. This was a powerful motivation for me while I was an English teacher for eight years and later as an assistant principal."
The next step in Silberman's career was becoming the principal of New York City's Automotive High School, a struggling career and technical education (CTE) school. The student population at the high school was 95 percent male and 100 percent minority and low income. She explains: "Automotive High School made it clear to me that it is imperative to teach these students to read and write, as well as advocate for themselves. We must also provide career training options and gender equality for students."
To promote gender equality among the students, Automotive High School started a Gender Studies course, which had a required reading list for all students. Silberman explains: "We felt it was our responsibility that young men of color entering the workforce understand gender issues. Now in my current role, I work with groups like Legal Momentum to ensure we are doing everything possible to increase female students' access to nontraditional careers in technical fields."
In Silberman's current position as deputy executive director of the Office of Postsecondary Readiness, she can "not only fix one CTE school, but can actually have an impact on career and technical curriculum for all of New York City's public schools." Serving 1.1 million K—12 students, New York City's school district is larger than the school population of entire countries.
Academic Rigor Fosters Student Engagement
In 1997, the New York City Board of Education integrated Cisco Networking Academy courses as a new CTE program, leading to an effective career pathway. Silberman heartily endorses the board's decision: "Networking Academy not only provides academic rigor, but also hands-on technology training, which leads to a high level of student engagement, confidence building, and career visualization. What I find particularly compelling is the online instruction, online games, and simulation tools for real-world learning. With these resources, we are able to level the playing field for all our students. It does not matter where your school is located, or what kind of budget your district has. Cisco provides curricula that are customizable for our diverse learners. In addition, resources include instructor and student support, ongoing instructor professional development, and social media."
Because the Networking Academy curricula are customizable, Silberman notes: "We are able to differentiate instruction to account for different learning styles, levels, and pace. Students are not asked to passively acquire and repeat information. Coursework projects focus on real-world problem-solving and encourage collaboration with peers and mentors."
Success Story: Who Is the Teacher? Who Are Special Ed Students?
Silberman shares a story about the visit of a high-ranking member of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's staff, Assistant Secretary Brenda Dann Messier.
Dr. Messier asked to see a CTE school that had "turned a corner" and was providing exemplary instruction. The principal of Chelsea Vocational High School, Brian Rosenbloom, had taken the job because he wanted to "turn around the 'worst' high school in New York City, have some fun, and do good work." Rosenbloom is considered one of the best principals in New York City. When asked to show Messier and Silberman something he is particularly proud of at Chelsea, he took them to the Cisco Networking Academy classroom and lab at the high school. The class serves both traditional and special education students.
Silberman describes what they saw: "We walked into the lab and the room was buzzing. If the principal had not told us ahead of time, I would never have known there were special education students in the room. All of the students looked like they could be on a job site. I could not easily distinguish who was the instructor. The students were effectively working in teams to solve the same types of problems they will encounter on the job."
Taking Networking Academy Skills Anywhere
Silberman would like all students to have access to Networking Academy curricula: "I am convinced that if students attend Networking Academy classes, they will be able to work anywhere. As we talk to students about their goals and ambitions, which run the gamut from joining regional nonprofit organizations to global corporations, these students agree that Cisco Networking Academy skills and knowledge will provide opportunities for career success."