Arguably, one of the biggest factors contributing to social class immobility is lack of education – specifically, quality education. Public school funding can have a big impact on a high school student’s future prospects. If the schools won’t teach the skills you need to do well after graduation, who will?

Real-World Readiness, Reimagined

This was a problem a couple of students identified and wanted to fix when observing some of the inner-city high schools in Syracuse.

I had the privilege to join this team at its early stages and help build an after-school program we would eventually call Skills for Success, designed to help students develop computer application skills like typing and Microsoft Office.

Though these may be basic skills to some, these skills are as important as ever. Some students in the Syracuse area don’t have access to these resources. But providing the tools to teach them can change that.

Software = Snooze!

One of the first problems the Skills for Success program ran into was engaging the high-schoolers that were pressured by their overenthusiastic teachers into attending.

The program did well to cover skills demanded in both higher education and the workplace, but wasn’t exciting enough for seniors that only wanted to be the first one out of the building as soon as that last school bell rang. Understandably, too. Every high schooler would probably rather go home and change into fuzzy pajamas than learn about the benefits of proficiency in software.

The Most Important Things to a Teenager

To combat this, the Skills for Success team restructured the program. We kept the content, but changed the execution entirely.

I got to put myself back in a high-schooler’s shoes and rediscover what motivated me to do well. It seems so long ago while in reality it’s been less than a couple years! The two most common themes were cash and competition.

We incorporated both values by creating the program into an Olympics-style competition where each lesson was an event, and the kids with the three best scores overall were awarded the three highest cash amounts – the “gold” being $200.

Of course, since the other students didn’t exactly receive the glory of being in the Olympics, we gave everyone who competed $25 as well.

As you can imagine, our numbers were strong and participation was high. And most importantly, our mission was fulfilled. Not only did the high-schoolers get a little extra pocket money, they got the chance to develop software skills that will benefit them no matter which path they choose after graduation.

Having these computer literacy skills for teenagers can open up a world of possibilities that weren’t available before. Even if it’s not their favorite thing to do, being able to a way to connect with software can make a difference in their futures and ours.