“You’re hired!”

David, Hayden and Kendall, Academy360 Lower School’s newest “employees,” have joined the school’s Physical Education team as PE teacher assistants, Principal Gina Catania proudly announces.

Physical education teacher Rob Lisciandrello asked the three students to take part after noting their exceptional skills during PE this year. As teacher assistants (also known as “peer tutors”), the teens would help lead class warm-ups, teach dance moves and motivate classmates during virtual workouts.

While the Lower School has had peer tutors before, this school year has been different. So Rob decided to take the experience a few steps further.

“These students actively participate in every class, don’t need to be encouraged to take part in activities and are always on task,” he says. “So, I had an idea.”

Rather than simply appointing the students as assistants, Rob thought why not take it one step farther and make the roles actual job opportunities.

Rob reached out to Principal Catania with his idea, who embraced it. The boys’ enthusiastic classroom teacher Rachael Zeigler set them to work creating resumes and filling out applications. Together they discussed how being a teaching assistant would impact future jobs and that they can add it to future resumes.

To prepare for their interviews, Rachael and her students practiced answering the questions Rob had provided. And on the big day the boys dressed up for their interviews, sent follow-up emails, and then settled in to wait for a decision.

They were hired, of course! (See below for video of the boys accepting their job offers!)

The positions align with their work study program, to prepare them for a real world job, and allows them to put the experience on future job applications.

“It’s great practice for job training. We usually do things as a transition to the upper school, going to a pizzeria or other places where they can practice skills. Obviously that’s not an option right now, so in terms of social skills and interview skills, this is excellent.” says Rob.

Not only was the process of applying a useful exercise, but the social aspect also will increase engagement with students on the other side of the screen – another big plus.

To keep with COVID-19 safety protocols, PE classes are fully remote. Rob teaches from the gym, while students participate via computer either in their classrooms or at home.

The assistants are tasked with demonstrating and leading class exercises. Rob goes over the exercises with the boys prior to class, practicing the steps and how to describe them to classmates. Then in class, they announce the exercises, demonstrate them, decide how many the class should do, and count off as everyone joins in.

“They’ve learned how to work together, how to organize their mics, and how to problem solve,” says Rob. “It’s a fantastic experience.”

Rob finds the students really need structure, particularly in current circumstances. Mondays are dedicated to a workout video, learning new exercises. On Tuesday, Rob and the tutors lead the class in exercises. Wednesdays focus on learning about a sport and exercises needed to take part in it. On Thursday, the students dance. And everyone winds down on Friday with yoga.

Rob says dancing is a favorite with students, particularly David. “When I first met him, he was teaching me how to do YouTube dances,” Rob laughs.

“They all took it very seriously – which can be hard when ‘working with peers’ – applied themselves, and have shown a lot of professionalism since starting,” Rachael says. “I am beyond proud of them!”

The teens are already looking ahead to their post-school goals.

Kendall will be applying to Burger King, when the pandemic is done. In the future, he would like to work in the music profession. David would like a career in performing arts, and Hayden would like to work with animals.

Thanks to Rob, Gina, Rachael and all the staff involved, this is an amazing experience to help prepare them for the future.