Skip to main content

Senior Perspective: Life Skills and Career Training are Essential Learning for High School Students

We are excited to spotlight recent Lawrence Central High School graduate Larry Nelson III as he shares about his work experience, career aspirations, and the issues that are important to him as a young person.  

By Larry Nelson III

June 16, 2021

Last month, we wrapped up the first season of our #CenteringStudentVoices Series. As we gear up for our follow-up season this fall, we want to continue to share student voices with you.TFA Indy's #CenteringStudentVoices series seeks to elevate student voice and leadership on the issues that impact students directly.

Since his freshman year in high school, Larry has participated in programming through Indiana-based nonprofit TeenWorks, which provides on the job training and career development for young Hoosiers. This training has helped shape Larry’s outlook on educational needs and career opportunities for teens and helped develop the soon-to-be college freshman as a thriving member of Indiana’s workforce.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Larry Nelson III. I’ll be graduating from Lawrence Central High School this spring. Ever since I was little, I’ve loved all things technology and engineering. I’ve helped my dad fix and re-build computers. In high school, I’ve been taking engineering courses, and recently, I’ve developed a photography hobby.

How did you get involved with TeenWorks?

I talked to my school counselor. I wanted a summer job, and she recommended TeenWorks as an option. I filled out an application, went to two or three interviews, and got in. TeenWorks is more than a summer job program: it’s year-round programming and scholarships with career readiness programming and preparation for interviews.

My first year in the program, I worked on a farm. I’m not a very athletic kid, and it was hot. Some days it was raining. The farm, Indy Urban Acres, had bees, vegetables, and a flower garden. We planted and had fun end-of-year activities, and a couple of people got permanent positions at the farm. It was hard work, but the people at Indy Urban Acres were fun and engaging, which made me want to go back. I thought I was going to work to get some money, but you also grow attached to your co-workers.

On Wednesdays, TeenWorks had professional development and helped me with my interview skills. I don’t think I would have the job that I have today without those skills, without that preparedness. TeenWorks leaders also talk about other options for higher education: trade schools and certifications. Not just work – career and life preparedness, even finances.

Can you tell me more about TeenWorks' professional development programming?

We practiced interviewing through mock interviews. We did a bunch with peers and supervisors and prepared for a mock interview at an actual company. I went to Enterprise and interviewed with their hiring managers. It was a great experience, and they gave us feedback on our interviews. I take that feedback wherever I go. I work on posture (I slouch a lot), speaking clearly, and enunciating.

Also, when I signed up for TeenWorks, I needed a debit card. Through TeenWorks, you can sign up for a bank account with a checking account and maybe a savings account, if you want one, and you are paid through direct deposit.

During the Wednesday professional development, TeenWorks teaches money management. We did budgets for fun things – like movies or candy – and for phone bills. I’m still using it today. I have a car now. I have to pay my insurance and phone bill, and I want to have enough to eventually move out. I want to have three or four months in advance when I get an apartment.

I participated in TeenWorks for three summers, but I have a year-round job now. TeenWorks helped me get a job at Crew Carwash. I like it and work with great people. I work part-time, 25 to 30 hours a week right now, and go to school. It’s good to get out of the house and get some fresh air.

“There’s the age-old saying, “Treat people how you would like to be treated.” Sometimes people just really need to sit down in a room and talk to each other. I did that at TeenWorks; there were lots of kids from different backgrounds. We could talk, and even disagree sometimes, but still understand. I think that older people sometimes don’t have that same capacity.”

Larry Nelson III

Senior, Lawrence Central High School

Through the #CenteringStudentVoices series, Teach For America Indianapolis hopes to elevate student voice and leadership for our Indy community to hear directly from students on the issues that impact them directly. What are the issues that matter most to you and your peers?

My peers and I have been talking a lot about issues in our community and education specifically. The big one: you know that we’ve had a lot of riots and protests recently, racial injustices. We want more compassion and understanding and to stop that turmoil.

There’s the age-old saying, “Treat people how you would like to be treated.” Sometimes people just really need to sit down in a room and talk to each other. I did that at TeenWorks; there were lots of kids from different backgrounds. We could talk, and even disagree sometimes, but still understand. I think that older people sometimes don’t have that same capacity. Let’s talk. School is diverse, too. Lots of students are immigrants. Work is diverse. There, I talk to different people speaking different languages. We have to deal with the barriers sometimes. If you’re patient enough, you can get over misunderstandings at school and work.

Also, the education system needs rehab. Specifically, there’s too much focus on college for some students. Then after they leave high school, if they don’t go to college, they don’t know what to do.  There needs to be more life in classes. Classes like economy and government are at the end of high school as you’re about to get pushed out there in the world. We need them earlier, and we need life skills. For example, you need to know how to vote, not just a link to a website. Lots of people, like me, need extra guidance there. And we kind of just gloss over it.

They also don’t teach us to do our taxes or anything like that, and some people’s parents don’t really know how to do their taxes either; everyone needs to be able to do them. So, what are they going to do? I do my own taxes. Why pay someone else when you can do it yourself for free?

What are you planning on doing after you graduate from high school?

Before TeenWorks, I wanted to be a programmer or robotics engineer, and then realized it wasn’t my passion. TeenWorks helped me talk through it. Advisors talk one-on-one with participants and send lists of recommendations. My supervisor at TeenWorks was Thomas Christenson. We talked about why I wanted to go to IUPUI, or why I wanted to go to Purdue. Is it for the name, he asked, or what’s affordable to you? We talked through scholarships and grants and made a plan – which, for me, was living at home and saving up money. (Larry will begin classes at IUPUI this fall.)

Right now, I want to go into computer integrated manufacturing (CIM). I decided to take CIM my sophomore year, and I took regular and advanced CIM. I ended up loving it; we did cool projects and made different things like connect four boards and giant benches. It was a fun class; the teacher, Mr. Bonewit, was engaging. It was fun, and I could do the work.

Note: Larry studied CIM with teacher Cole Bonewit at the McKenzie Center for Innovation & Technology through a partnership between the center and the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township.

Do you have any advice for students who are starting high school next fall?

Get a job early. You might want to save up or invest. Even if you’re 13 or 14, you can get a job. They’ll pay you; get the work experience. Take the initiative: talk to your school counselor, type in “summer job” in Google, or contact TeenWorks