Bridging Communities and Careers

Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy is a small Catholic school in Elizabeth, NJ, where the majority of students fall below the poverty level and are first, second or third generation Americans learning English as their second language. Cassandra Iverson is in her second year as the English Language Arts (ELA) and a reading teacher for the 6th, 7th and 8th grades at Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy, She is committed to creating pathways for her students that extend beyond their education.

Her students work on Read to Lead twice a week in the computer lab, and use the blended lesson plans in their classrooms, which is a big part of why this platform works so well for her class. “I love that Read to Lead transcends beyond the computer and into real world action,” said Cassandra. “The service project and lesson plans are flexible, which makes it easy to modify Read to Lead into other subjects like Social Studies and STEM. Being able to have that integration of different subjects while strengthening student literacy is exciting.”

As a teacher in a Catholic school, Cassandra is tasked with finding ways to incorporate the academy’s values into her classroom. She’s been using Read to Lead with her students for two years because it improves literacy but also involves teaching social justice, empathy and good character, which are all part of her school’s religious studies. “My eighth graders used the social justice components of Read to Lead to help get ready for their Confirmation. After playing the game they started thinking about what they could do to benefit their community.”

In addition to the academic and social emotional components of Read to Lead, the platform is exposing her students to a wide range of real-world careers they had not previously considered. “Many of my students had not realized these occupations were within their reach,” said Cassandra. “Read to Lead has brought new ideas for their lives’ trajectories and opened up new possibilities.” For students who had previously thought of a career in the medical field as being restricted to doctors, Vital Signs has made important connections to the numerous other ways they can be part of this work, including humanitarian aid.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy, Cassandra’s students are eager to think about their futures and what careers align with their personal passions and values. Read to Lead has given them the chance to be the boss in authentic workplace environments where they can imagine themselves as adults. “My students didn’t realize they could have a career in service working at a community center,” said Cassandra. “They have been introduced to these occupations and at the end of each episode they realize they are capable of doing these jobs.”

By incorporating Read to Lead into her middle school curriculum, Cassandra has strengthened her students’ literacy skills while giving them opportunities to connect their values and their learning. Cassandra’s students have shown significant growth in their reading levels and have become more confident readers in class. They are also starting to think about what their life could look like after school, having built strong connections between their community and potential careers.