Apr 26, 2023
BTE Student Stories
In the autumn of 2019, partners from across the Limerick, Ireland, community – including Johnson & Johnson Vision Care (JJVC), Junior Achievement (JA) Ireland, Ardscoil Mhuire, Thomond Community College, University of Limerick, and Limerick Institute of Technology – came together to launch a new 3-year BTE program.
Teresa Leahy was there from the start. From JA Ireland, Teresa served as the Site Coordinator throughout the program, starting with strategic planning in 2018, all the way through the program’s graduation in 2022. At the start, Teresa says, “We wanted to focus on DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools) schools. Students in these schools are typically coming from areas of disadvantage where the support of programs like BTE is invaluable. It was important to help students see a place for themselves in further education and employment.”
To help students understand that paths to their goals do exist, Teresa along with the teachers and the team spent significant time building trust with the students. “We wanted them to understand that whatever it is they wanted to achieve, we would be there to support them.”
That dedication paid off. Teresa and her partners have much to be proud of, but at the top of the list is that all of their participants completed the program – an incredible accomplishment at any time, let alone during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Teresa made it look effortless,” Tiffany Nesbey, BTE Youth Development Specialist, says.
Still, Teresa cites COVID-19 as a major challenge for the program. Everything she and the Limerick site team had spent months planning was thrown out the window. To retain students, the Limerick site made use of BTE’s customizable structure. They asked students what they needed most. “None of our programs ran as we had hoped it would because of COVID. We had an extremely unsettled two years, and unfortunately for our students they were facing the most stressful year of their education with the upcoming state exam. So, we knew the BTE project was just going to be, ‘What can we do to support them?’”
“The BTE Limerick program is a prime example of how successful the program can be when young people are given the space to decide and voice what they need for their futures. The BTE Limerick team was constantly evolving and responding to meet their participants’ needs,” shares Cherine Smith, BTE Program Manager.
Some of that support was relatively straightforward. “We did a survey around the kinds of courses they were thinking about, college-wise,” Teresa says. Then, working with the university, the BTE Limerick team was able to provide recorded lectures on health & medicine, engineering, teaching, and more so that students could see what studying different fields might be like, even when they were unable to visit campuses in person. When students shared that they wanted tutoring support in preparation for the secondary school leaving certificate examinations, the Limerick site team responded by organizing a schedule and tutors to provide academic support to students.
Other support came down to individual need. “We asked them, now and again, ‘What can we do to help?’” At the beginning of the pandemic, one student responded that she was trying to do the BTE activities on her phone, but it was difficult – did J&J have an old laptop she could use instead? “I said, ‘well let’s go and see,’ and of course J&J bought her a new laptop,” Teresa shares. This kind of belief in the students helped them blossom: “She worked really hard,” Teresa says of the student, “She spoke at the graduation event. She didn’t even have a piece of paper in front of her and she was absolutely brilliant.”
“We got very good feedback” from students “specifically for their study skills,” Teresa shares on the BTE program’s impact. “Just the time they spent with us on the program helped them understand the various kinds of skills and opportunities there are for people of all different interests.”
But it’s the non-academic skills where Teresa saw the students really grow. “Skills like communication and the teamwork side of things – and building their confidence.” Believing in the students – and getting the students to believe in themselves, was BTE Limerick’s crucial mission. “Getting those students to believe that they can do what they want to do, that it’s not another world they can’t get to – we dropped that into everything we did with them. And I think, from the graduation, that’s the kind of thing the students were saying: they believe they can go to college and that there is a place for them in the world of work.”
“I truly believe students can achieve their goals if they are given the help and support.” and now, thanks to Teresa, Junior Achievement and the BTE Limerick team giving students a chance to use their voices and really listening to them to deliver the program they needed, the students believe it, too.
Read more about the BTE Limerick site here.