In this edition of I Am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other team members, we talk to Jake Breier about how he became the district’s “Career Cowboy,” what he has learned about managing expectations through costumes, and the changes audiences can expect to see in the program this year.
Let’s start with the basics. What is a “career cowboy” and what does one do?
Basically, I do two things: presentations (about possible careers) and activity stations. The presentations usually involve information and music, but recently we got a robot like the ones a few high schools received last year. Mine is blue, and sometimes I bring it out to talk about engineering and programming. Kids love it.
The activity stations are a hands-on sort of experience. Kids get to see what it’s like to be a welder, excavator, healthcare worker, and so on by experimenting with electricity and other things. At the robotics-in-action station, for instance, they see how a task is done using robot arms. A lot of stuff that seems like games connects back to reading and math and how those can lead into careers.
How did you come to be doing this for a living? What’s your background?
I actually started this job right out of college. I’m from Houston originally. I attended Poe Elementary, Lanier Middle School, and graduated from Challenge Early College High School in 2009. Thanks to that experience, I was able to get out of college in two years and saved a lot of money.
The Career Readiness department was looking for a performer and musician, and I was a music and humanities major at the University of Washington in Seattle. I still continue to play music.
Got it. How long has the Career Cowboy program been in existence?
Since the spring of 2012.
And how many presentations would you say you’ve given in the last two years?
I’ve visited about 30 different schools, some more than once. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, but we’re going to start conducting a survey before and after so we can improve even more.
You wear costumes for these presentations, right?
Yes. But I’ve changed that up a little bit, because I’ve found that if you wear a doctor’s scrubs, the kids think you’re only there to talk about dental hygiene. So now I just stick with the cowboy costume.
You sing songs about various careers in your presentations. Which one is your favorite and what are some of the lyrics?
I like “Mr. Handyman,” which is just a rewriting of “Mr. Sandman.” We use real old Americana songs, like “I Saw the Light.”
Here are the lyrics to Mr. Handyman:
Build me a car
Give it four wheels, so it will go far
Fix the suspension, so it won’t roll over
And a V-8 engine from General Motors
I want an automobile
Check out the oil and the tread on the wheels
Flash the bulbs on those high beams
Mr. Handyman, build me a dream!
I understand the Career Cowboy program is undergoing a bit of a revamping. Can you tell me a little about that?
I’ll still do presentations in auditoriums, but now the activity stations are all going to be stationary, and located inside the Ready Wagon (a decorated school bus). I’m really excited. I’m just trying to organize it now, because it’s basically all in my head, and we want to create a Career Cowboy manual so other people can do it, too. There are volunteers who come and sing with me. My wife actually comes and sings sometimes, too.
What do you do during the summer months, when school is out? Do you have other duties?
The Career Cowboy/Ready Wagon is my main area, but if we (the Career & Technical Education dept.) have an event coming up, I do a lot of support for that. Recently, I’ve been developing new curriculum, since the bus is going to be new this year. We tried to get everything done before school started. Centerpoint sponsored the shrink wrap and the floors’ re-doing, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science put in some tables and things for us. I was kind of doing this out of my car while we got a sponsor, so it’s great to finally develop the program.
What’s the one thing you’d like educators to know about the Career Cowboy/Ready Wagon program?
That it’s totally free. All they have to do is email me, fill out a form, and then schedule the visit.