If Fred Bramante could bottle his enthusiasm for eduction reform, it would be more powerful than any energy drink on the market.
Instead, he’s focused right now on a more attainable goal: Recruiting “10,000 Mentors” for Manchester Schools.
“It’s like the eHarmony of school to career relationships,” says Bramante, former Chair of the New Hampshire Board of Education and lifelong firebrand.
In simplest terms, the 10,000 Mentor program is a way to match the interests of students with business people – and potential career opportunities – in the community.
Bramante left the school board in 2012 to establish the non-profit National Center for Competency-Based Learning, to focus full time on redesigning the public education system.
His passion is what moves his big ideas from concept to action.
Of course, reaching 10,000 mentors from across all sectors of business and industry will take some time. Bramante’s short-term goal is 1,000 mentors for Manchester in the next 5 years. In fact, he has a chart with the mentor goals for each school district in New Hampshire, based on student population.
His long-term goal, although lofty, is firm: 1 million mentors for America’s schools.
“In the long term what we envision is that this is an entry way to jobs. The New York Times reported that, more than your college major or grad school or GPA, internships are what gets you that first job,” Bramante says.
His program would help recruit and train mentors – bankers, insurance brokers, hospital and high-tech professionals, plumbers, software developers, manufacturers, auto mechanics, entrepreneurs – anyone with an interest in elevating students with expertise, and tangible real-world skills is qualified for the job.
Mentors would work with students to accrue “extended learning opportunities,” or ELOs, which would count as academic credits toward graduation requirements.
It’s a program that supports another one of Bramante’s passions: Competency-based learning, which allows New Hampshire schools to step away with the 180-day “Carnegie Unit” system that relies on a set calendar days requirement, in deference to skill’s-based mastery learning.
In April, the Manchester School District formally got on board with the 10,000 Mentors program. Bramante is now fine-tuning how the program will be introduced to students, but it will not be an extracurricular endeavor.
Students will be able to opt-in as a separate program of study when they select their classes. The goal is to begin matching students with mentors in January.
Bramante says similar school-to-career programs are already in place, including the Belknap Economic Development Council’s “200 by 2020” initiative.
“New Hampshire was the first state in the country to get rid of the Carnegie Based 180 days, even though they only had a one-year agreement to an hours-based calendar instead of 180 days. Who cares how long a kid sits in class. What matters is did they learn, or didn’t they?” Bramante says.
He says what is intrinsically wrong with public education in America is that is was never designed to teach every kid.
“A hundred years ago, we filled factories with kids who couldn’t go to college. School was a sorting mechanism. Those who didn’t go to college would get factory jobs, or join the military. Now we need to design a system that educates every child,” Bramante says.
Not only will this program create opportunities for students entering the work force, but it will also go a long way toward helping local companies that struggle to find qualified employees, Bramante says.
“For example, we are having a serious issues finding employees for high-tech companies we have right here. This is just not that hard to figure out,” Bramante says.
“We have an outdated education system, not just here in Manchester, but pretty much all around the United States,” Bramante says.
He wants to be an agent of change, and believes wholeheartedly that this program is the way forward.
“This is how you’ll be able to tell when we’re successful,” says Bramante. “You’ll be able to grab anybody at the Bridge Street Cafe and ask them how do we go about educating our kids in Manchester, and they will say, ‘The entire city participates.'”
To learn more or get involved with the 10,000 Mentors program contact Fred Bramante at FBramante@NCCBL.org or call 603-231-2708.