Teens who will be the first in their family to attend college may be getting straight A's in tough classes, but academic performance alone may not even the playing field when it comes to launching a successful career.
That's why Mountain View-Los Altos officials started offering a new program in 2016 to fill those gaps for the 350 students at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools in the AVID program, many of whom are motivated and industrious but simply don't have the same resources to prepare for a future job. The Pathways, Exposure, Academic Connection, Knowledge (PEAK) Program exposes hundreds of students to potential jobs through annual trips to companies and organizations including LinkedIn, Adobe, and Sobrato.
AVID is a college and career readiness initiative for low-income, minority, first-generation and other underrepresented youth.
The PEAK program is a big opportunity for students who haven't had any exposure to jobs and careers to see the inside of well-known companies firsthand and the people who work there, said Darya Larizadeh, who oversees the program. But she said the trips are much more than a tour through the headquarters of prominent businesses -- it's a "big time" chance for students to network, shake hands and exchange business cards.
"The goal of PEAK is to show them that these companies are in your area, and not just tech companies," Larizadeh said, mentioning upcoming visits to a law firm and a construction company this year. "We just came back from El Camino Hospital and a lot of students have expressed interest in careers in medicine."
The program received regional recognition earlier this month when the Santa Clara County School Boards Association awarded the PEAK program the 2018 Glenn Hoffmann Exemplary Program Award.
Each trip has a two-part mission, with a tour as well as group discussions with employees who also were the first in their family to go to college. Students get a feel for the broad range of jobs available at a company -- from software engineering and design to human resources and staff development -- and get a chance to build relationships with employees on the spot. One AVID staff member recalled a recent trip to Adobe where an employee told students he had no network during his job search, and that he wanted to be their first networking contact. Then he handed out his business card.
Along with the off-campus career expos, PEAK includes its own built-in curriculum for lining up internships and job-shadowing opportunities, drafting a strong resume and advice on how to dress.
During a board meeting in October, Superintendent Jeff Harding called it an important new strategy for helping students from lower-income families keep up with their peers as they prepare for higher education and eventually a job.
"This is the kind of educational opportunity that really fills that socio-economic gap," he said. "It takes students who might be the first in their families to go to college and gives them experiences so they can be better prepared to make that leap into the university and into the workforce."
Behind the scenes, Larizadeh said PEAK relies heavily on its own set of contacts to organize the tours, including parents who work at companies like LinkedIn and can get the ball rolling. Once district staffers have their foot in the door, she said, companies are more than happy to roll out the welcoming mat.
"We have not had anyone really turn us down, everyone is super excited to have us come," she said.