The mission of Bay Area LEEDS (Linking Education and Economic Development Strategies) is to help prepare the region's youth for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers with relevant industry tools and skill sets. The Walnut Creek-based nonprofit is one of the few intermediaries between business and education that brings long-term talent development solutions to workforce shortages by engaging STEM career pathway educators and employers who have difficult-to-fill STEM jobs. The organization develops, plans, and executes industry-supported approaches that build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable talent base to help ensure economic vitality for local communities.
"We collaborate with business and educators to excite students about pursuing purposeful post-secondary pathways aligned with high-wage, high-skill, high-demand jobs in the global economy," says April Treece, Chief Executive Officer, who has been with the organization since 2001.
According to Treece, teachers face several challenges in terms of STEM lessons. One is making their classroom content relevant and applicable to real-world scenarios. Another is providing opportunities for students to demonstrate both competence and work readiness skills, which includes such things as problem-solving and critical thinking.
Those challenges can be addressed by opportunities for teachers to do job shadowing, which allows a teacher to follow and closely observe an employee, and summer externships, or training periods, in workplace settings. Medical Occupations Instructor Kathy Cabrera, who teaches at Livermore's Granada High School, job shadowed at John Muir Health in Walnut Creek during spring 2023. Last summer, she had a week-long paid externship at I-Gate Innovation Hub and Daybreak Labs, an experience made possible by the Tri-Valley Regional Occupational Program and its work with Bay Area LEEDS.
Cabrera met the founders of Daybreak Labs and rotated through the start-up companies in residence as well as neighboring companies, including BuzzKill Labs, that are part of the region's emerging biotech and hard tech centers. As a result, the students in Cabrera's Medical Technologies Class have benefitted from their teacher's real-world experiences. They have had the opportunity to visit DayBreak Labs for an in-depth view of jobs being created by its companies. Moreover, one of Cabrera's students is being hosted by BuzzKill Labs as a student intern this year.
"While our work is focused on improving the lives of students by connecting them with tools to access livable-wage jobs in the regional economy, we do this through the teachers we work with," notes Treece. "Although we reach close to 500 high school students with direct services in the East Bay every year, our true value is working with career pathway teachers and connecting them to relevant experiences."
Along with the Tri-Valley Regional Occupational Program, Bay Area LEEDS supports a variety of efforts that support its mission. That includes BEST Day, which represents the implementation of Business & Education Shadowing for Tomorrow. Every year, up to 35 high school Career Technical Education teachers from Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore are given the opportunity to experience job shadowing within an industry for three hours during one day in the spring. This is followed by a one-week paid industry placement over summer. The next BEST Day Teacher Job Shadowing event is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, 2024.
"We reach over ten thousand students yearly through teachers being connected with real people doing real things in the local STEM economy," says Treece. "These connections live on, year after year, in classrooms. By providing teachers with access to industry experiences, they have the knowledge, skill sets, and tools to help students prepare for purposeful post-secondary education, training, and careers."