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The Great Wall > Prom: Thinking about work/life integration for our students

On Saturday at 11:51p.m. EST, I received a text from Laura Lee, EdNC’s content director and managing editor.

“Did you know your NCSSM kids are missing prom?” 

They hadn’t mentioned it.

Ana Sofia turned 18 last Monday night. As she wrapped up her school work to get ready for our trip, she enjoyed some red velvet cake, her favorite, made by a friend. But there was no time for a party.

Balance v. Integration

Several weeks ago, I was meeting with Steven Pearson at IBM and touring their incredible agile work space. He introduced a concept to me: work/life integration. Having no life balance, I latched on to this concept as a way to rationalize my own choices about work and life.

The Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley is a leader in pushing forward the idea of work/life integration:

We use the term Work/Life Integration instead of Work/Life Balance because the latter evokes a binary opposition between work and life. In fact, the traditional image of a scale associated with work/life balance creates a sense of competition between the two elements. Work/Life Integration instead is an approach that creates more synergies between all areas that define “life”: work, home/family, community, personal well-being, and health.

Technological tools have created new ways for us to collaborate and work virtually, bringing with them tailored alternatives for work schedule flexibility. 

Graphic Courtesy:

Being in touch with nature, society, our world

At the Science Education Innovation Forum of Chinese and Foreign Educators in Beijing this week, Xuyong Gu, a professor at Tsinghua University, shared with us some takeaways from a roundtable with scientists from around the world about the work/life integration of our students. The scientists felt the need for a bridge between our students and the real world, and they made four recommendations.

  1. The focus should not be on A’s.
  2. Students needs to be in touch with nature, society, and our world.
  3. More and more hands-on experience. The more the better.
  4. Well-rounded talent should be the goal.

NC represents!

The morning Laura texted me, we were attending the closing ceremonies of the 37th Beijing Youth Student Creation Competition. All of our kids earned medals for their research: Dory and Arjun will bring home gold medals, and Ana Sofia and Raymond will bring home silver medals. As they said, “NC represents!” 

It was something to see our students — our public school students — up there on the world stage winning medals for ground-breaking research. There is no doubt that they are our future. 

When they talk about their research, their eyes light up. Their voice quickens. The intellectual ownership they have over these ideas and concepts makes them proud. But notice, too, how much fun it is for them.

Prom on the Wall

Laura’s next text to me? Great Wall > Prom.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. It alternated between blue sky and flurries of snow. This place takes your breath away it so stunningly beautiful.

Up on the wall, the kids hiked, enjoyed the changing weather patterns, acted out scenes from High School Musical, posed for prom pictures, and yes, they talked about science. Arjun writes, “We had several science-related discussions about the wall in order to keep us distracted from the lactic acid building up in our legs.”

Photo Credit: Matthew Meyer
Photo Credit: Matthew Meyer

Laura was right. These kids will forever remember enjoying their prom on the Great Wall of China.

Our students

Perhaps my favorite part of Laura’s text to me was “your NCSSM students.” Here is what I can tell you about our students — all of them, including Arjun, our Wake County Early College of Health Sciences student:

They are not focused on A’s. They are focused on the research and making our world — and our galaxy — a better place to live. They are connected in meaningful and important ways to nature, society, and our world. They are the researchers and scientists they are because of the hands-on experiences — and mentors — they have had. They are well rounded. They are fun and funny, they are bright and insightful, they are engaged and engaging.

Using the Haas model, they are operating in the sweet spot of the nexus of work/career, home/family, well being/health, and giving back/connected to community. They have work/life integration.

Ana Sofia said yesterday, “If more kids have these opportunities, more kids will do amazing things.” All of us should take note.

And tonight, Ana Sofia, we will celebrate your birthday properly.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.