Are you a Kanye or a Beyoncé? Lessons Learned at McCluer High School

April 25, 2017

by Molly Hulsey

McCluer is one of four high schools in the Ferguson-Florissant school district – and since 2014, that has meant something a little different. To the nation, the City of Ferguson has become a reference point in any discussion of protest, Black Lives Matter, police force reform or civil unrest. But for the high schoolers I’ve spent the last several months getting to know, it’s still just home.

That home, however, presents these high school seniors with some big challenges as they prepare for the next step in their lives. If they’ve been accepted into college, most of them will be the first in their family to attend; if they’re headed into the workforce, their experiences often haven’t taught them how to write a résumé or prepared them for interviews..

We first visited McCluer in October 2016 to kick off an ongoing curriculum and guidance program. We held a panel in front of the entire senior class to talk about our personal experiences after high school, our work at FleishmanHillard (FH) and answer any questions they might have.

I probably had more nerves before that presentation than any client presentation in my life. I don’t know about you, but I did NOT have the best attention span in high school, and we were asking 600 kids to listen to a bunch of adults talk about their careers at the crack of dawn. I was also very conscious that many of us on the panel were lucky enough to come from privileged, comfortable backgrounds, and the last thing I wanted was for the students to perceive us as condescending or a bunch of know-it-alls to whom they couldn’t relate.

Luckily, I needn’t have worried. McCluer’s principal, Cedric Gerald, is one of the most passionate, caring educators I’ve ever met, and his introduction of us to the students felt like being back at a high school pep rally. There are people you meet who you just know were born to do what they do, and he is certainly one of them. He’s truly invested in his students’ success. Principal Gerald explained the mission of our project – to help teach them life skills they will need no matter what their goals are and to help them see and maximize the potential they each have.

As the panel went on, we could feel the kids warming up to us. They began to ask more – and more difficult – questions, ones that really made us think about the lessons we’d learned in college and our careers, and how to convey those to a group of young adults about to make that leap. By the end, we were joking and laughing with the students – but also sharing meaningful advice.

Over the course of the next semester, we were able to share several presentations, followed by small group learning sessions, to a group of around 60 McCluer seniors and some juniors. These covered a variety of topics, including personal brand, written communications, and tips for succeeding in your freshman year of college or first year in the workforce.

We especially tried to make each workshop one that communicated big concepts in relatable ways – whether that was using Kanye West and Beyoncé as running do’s and don’ts of personal branding, or showing iPhone screenshots to explain different ways to communicate with various people in your life.

Through these group sessions, we were able to share personal stories and experiences with the students. But what I will carry with me most is the lessons I learned from them. These students were bright, funny, and so eager to both listen and be heard – and I feel privileged that I was able to hear their stories and share some of my own. We were truly able to bond with them.

In one of our final group sessions, Principal Gerald spoke to the students again and encouraged several to share their own experiences with the program. This was emotional, to say the least, for both our #FH4Inclusion group and the students. One of the strongest testimonies came from a young man who told us, “This program has changed my life.” Based on the success of this effort, we are now developing a longer-term mentorship program.

This entire experience has truly been the most rewarding of my career, and it was so meaningful to be able to share it with my FH colleagues. We so often use the power of communication for our clients and our peers, but to be able to share it with another generation – hopefully, including some future FH interns! – is something for which I’m incredibly grateful to the #FH4Inclusion initiative.

Learn more about our work with McCluer High School here.