My 21 Jump Street moment: Improvement work goes to high school

High school students in Los Angeles are learning and doing quality improvement. I’m working with them and having a blast. For me, sitting around the table with these students feels like stepping back in time, like “21 Jump Street” without the car chases and the drug ring and trying to pass for a high school student myself. (That day is loooong past for me.)

We are creating a high school course that includes a real-life improvement project. The students are in a health care career track to prepare them as new workers in health care settings, specifically in the social work role in behavioral health. Their improvement projects will be focused on improving their work as peer mentors for incoming freshman students. Their projects will allow them to reach measurable goals for academic performance and completion of coursework with their mentee students.

The two student advisors to the program are smart, motivated and hilarious. Their experience of the health care system is limited pretty much to one kid’s skateboarding injuries. They are goofy and wired, all energy, and thrilled to be talking about new ideas.

They were tentative in the discussion at first, like the explorer who has landed in a new place. Full of enthusiasm but not knowing where she is and not clear what the rules are.

Watching these students internalize and adopt quality improvement methods, we adults could learn a lot from their openness and enthusiasm for learning and trying new things. The parts of the performance improvement methodology that are counter-intuitive for so many adults in busy workplaces come naturally to these young students:

“Of COURSE we need to try out a new idea first before deciding to change how we do things for everybody.”

“Of COURSE we want to ask our customers what they want” as we figure out what’s most valuable in our work.

The curriculum will teach improvement methodology using the Model for Improvement (developed by Associates in Process Improvement), which includes systems thinking, collaboration skills, project management and design thinking. Additional competencies include professional presentation skills, meeting management and group decision-making. It’s rich and very applicable real-world stuff.

Below for you to download is an activity we are developing for the curriculum, to teach improvement project aim statements. It's a story about the life of a fledgling designer t-shirt business, 213 T-Shirts. (The high school is in the 213, yo, said the middle-aged white guy.)

I think that no matter your age, stories like this work well as a basic primer for how to organize a goal-focused project. Also, it’s fun to think about high school students becoming effective peer mentors for those bewildered and awkward freshmen, using performance improvement methods to guide their work.

Let me know if you can use this story-exercise linked below in your work. If so, I can provide an update on how it works when we use this in the fall with the new class of high school senior mentors, and share the next exercise, which will have the students select performance measures for the budding fashion label 213 T-Shirts, to go along with their Aim Statement. 

Improvement at 213 T-Shirt Company.pdf