Most of their classmates were enjoying the spring break, perhaps sleeping in or lounging on a snowy April morning.

But about 40 students at Hartford Public High School's Academy of Engineering and Green Technology had different designs for their break.

Academy students build a paper tower
Teamwork: YES Academy students Nick Simmonds, Troylyn Murphy, and D'Ziyah Mitchell put the finishing touches to their paper tower.

They spent spring break in school, participating in team-building exercises and learning what will be expected of them when they enter the working world.

What has become an annual tradition at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology—the YES Academy during break—continued April 9-12 as volunteers from throughout Greater Hartford's business community came to the school to work with and mentor students.

The YES Academy is an effort that CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership began years ago.

"The goal is to provide students with professional skills and employability skills," said partnership program manager Dayl Walker.

"High school students don't know what's expected of them in the workplace.

"This helps them understand what employers expect in terms of skills and attitudes."

Volunteer Tradition

What makes the lessons especially poignant is that they are coming from working professionals who visit the school to share their knowledge and experience.

The volunteers included professionals from Aetna, Optum, UTC Aerospace, Steffian Bradley Architects, O&G, the Birch Group, AI Engineers, the Metropolitan District Commission, the Hartford Parking Authority, and Qualidigm.

Among the topics students covered were:

  • Preparing for a job interview and sitting through a mock interview
  • Writing a resume
  • Dressing for success
  • Putting your phone down and paying attention
  • Understanding financial management

Paper Tower Challenge

And they had fun in the process.

On April 10, students broke into teams to create a paper tower, a larger version of a house of cards.

And just like a house of cards, a paper tower can come crumbling down.

Using plain 8-by-11-inch sheets of white paper, the students used teamwork, knowledge, and some imagination to build paper towers in a 20-minute exercise overseen by CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan.

Brennan said the exercise was about "finding a way to make it work because that's what you're going to be challenged to do in your job as you get older. How you work as a team can make it fun."

A team that included juniors Gabriel Batista, Zam Khai, Teanna Minott, and Azhar Muhammed built their paper tower to about four feet before it came crashing down.

But they weren't deterred and went back to building it again, this time even higher. It didn't hurt that Muhammed's career interests include architectural engineering.

Teamwork, Communication Skills

Some students folded the paper in half and went up from there.

But junior Adeena Myrie, who participated in a previous YES Academy, used two sheets to create a what resembled a brick. She and sophomore Ashleigh Pitter then used the brick shapes to build a high tower.

"The best part about is you weren't alone, you had somebody to help you with it, and you had to exchange ideas with the person," Myrie said.

The goal is to provide students with professional skills and employability skills.
— CBIA's Dayl Walker
"It was interesting how a group of people can come together and build something so amazing out of the simplest thing."

"When you work as a team, communication is so important," Minott said. "You never know who on your team is going to come up with a good idea."

In the room next door, Troylyn Murphy, another student interested in architectural engineering, led his team in building a tall tower.

Career Goals

Juniors Celeste Faniel, Ashley Simpson, and Chavelle Daley worked on one team while Wendie Stewart, Frances Reyes, and Jamilah Green, also juniors, comprised another.

Brennan said he's always impressed when he visits the academy, and this time was no different.

He said what impresses him the most is the answers he gets when he asks a roomful of students about their career goals.

"When I was your age, all I wanted to do was play centerfield for the Yankees, knowing I would never do that. But I didn't really have any aspirations," Brennan said.

"But all I heard today was, 'I want to be a doctor, I want to be a nurse, I want to be a lawyer, I want to be an architectural engineer.'

"It is so impressive, the goals that you guys have set for yourselves."