By Erin Sikora
Recently I was asked how I know that The Challenge Program is making a difference and if I could pick out a moment when I came to that realization. I sat for a while thinking what my answer to this question would be and then all at once it hit me. The answer to this question is simple, I witness how TCP is making a difference every day. Whether it be during assemblies when students are receiving their cash awards or when I travel to a workforce activity and get to see students interact with their business partner or even when I have a simple conversation with an educator.
When a student is recognized in front of their peers for their accomplishments it truly gives perspective on how exactly TCP is making a difference. These students work so hard all year on each of the five categories and when they finally learn they are the recipient of the $200 cash awards their faces tell a whole story. I was lucky enough to attend just around 15 Kick-Off assemblies this past fall and for some of them, I was lucky enough to be the one actually presenting and kicking off the year for these students. I think for me when I experienced the moment a student found out that all of their hard work had paid off and they had all of their classmates and teachers cheering for them it truly brought just such joy to my heart. A moment like that makes everyone in the room feel that excitement and gratitude. It is just truly unforgettable. I have read countless stories of students saying that when they saw their classmates or best friend getting awarded that is what made them want to start trying harder in school.
I will always remember at one of the first assemblies I attended there was one student recipient who really stuck out to me. I will never forget the smile on his face when he heard his name called. All of his classmates started clapping and calling out his name as he approached his business partner. The thing that stuck out to me the most though was how he stayed after the assembly to personally thank his business partner along with myself and the other TCP staff who were in attendance. I decided to strike up a conversation with him and he told me “I was so excited to learn that I had won the Attendance award at my high school. I haven’t missed a day of school since 2nd grade and it’s great to see that pay off!” Just thinking about that moment still puts a smile on my face to this day. Little did I know at that moment that was just the first of many moments where I would see TCP’s mission come to life.
When students participate in tours, classroom presentations, and sponsored events you can see a new connection being built between them and their business partner. While this interaction is something that not every student gets to experience, I can always tell that the students who take this opportunity become invested in not only getting to know more about career opportunities but also invested in TCP and what we focus on.
I think the best thing about the workforce activities I have been able to attend is that they are all different but in some ways the same. There has been one moment in particular that I have noticed at each activity. In the beginning, most of the students are kind of quiet and don’t really have any questions or comments, but the moment that one student starts to open up I can always see the connection between the students and the business partner begin to grow. I remember this happening at a recent workforce activity that I was attending. Throughout the presentation, the students weren’t really engaging too much, but as soon as the activity became hands-on and they got to go on a tour the entire atmosphere changed. The students were asking questions and even breaking off into small groups to look at different aspects of the building. I felt like this moment was so important for both the students and the business partner because when the students started to feel connected and comfortable around their business partner they became more engaged and that was so amazing to watch.
Special moments for me personally have not always centered around just the students and the business partners, some have also been with educators. Each time I get to sit down and have a conversation with an educator about TCP it never fails to make me smile. Recently I was attending our annual Facilitating Connections networking event and I had the chance to talk with different educators from all different territories. Hearing educators and decision-makers within the schools that we work with saying things like “we are so lucky to have TCP for our students” and “Thank you for caring about our students so much” just brought me so much joy. This program was created for students and businesses and when educators can validate that what you are doing is making a difference truly means so much.
With all of this combined, I don’t really think there was ever one exact moment when I knew. I guess my answer to that question is that I know more and more every day because every day I get to work for a company who truly cares about the students and educators and businesses we work with. Every day I learn more about students and their stories. Every day I get to see the world become a better place one education and business partnership at a time.