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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Engaging Students with Hands-on Work Experiences

Bob Lenz

Co-founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

It's a very exciting time for the eleventh and twelfth graders at Envision Schools. During the spring semester, students participate in the Workplace Learning Experience (WLE) for 12 weeks.

Envision Schools require that students find the workplace on their own, where they will spend one day a week during the 12-week period. We believe that students need to build their own social networks and advocate for themselves as part of their preparation for college.

On the Job

Students look for organizations and businesses willing to become a part of their educational program by providing them with valuable knowledge and insights into career planning and the world of work. Students identify possible job placements that will allow them to have an engaging learning experience where they can be supported in their personal and academic growth in areas such as: business/finance, education, digital arts, film, web design, performing arts, law, medicine, and research.

The WLE offers students a chance to understand how successful adults operate in the world of work, measure their knowledge and skills against what will be required of them in the future, and obtain information about a job of interest.

We believe that in addition to mastering the content of our courses and to be successful beyond high school, students need to achieve and demonstrate professional leadership skills.

During the workplace learning experience students do real work, solve real problems, and are offered continual challenges. In addition, every student completes a project or does research that will benefit his or her workplace.

The Results

At the conclusion of the experience, students present these projects to workplace staff, parents, fellow students and faculty in a formal Exhibition of Learning. Students also maintain a blog that is accessible to mentors, parents, and advisors.

Here are some examples of real student projects from past WLE's:

  • A design board for an architectural client
  • A tutorial guide for a special effects software program
  • Designing Web sites
  • Teaching units and/or individual lessons in elementary classrooms
  • Case studies of students in elementary classrooms
  • Producing a guide for high school interns at the district attorney's office
  • Support the development of a web-based advertising campaign
  • Producing and directing a film or television show
  • Organizing a benefit concert
  • Instituting an online store to sell a self-designed school merchandise line
  • Writing a play and having it performed
  • Directing and producing a documentary about the WLE program for external funders
  • Holding a series of workshops
  • Coordinating Literacy for Environmental Justice's Earth Day Celebration
  • Editing and publishing in the local newspaper
  • Conducting a make-up design workshop

Visit this link to view a short documentary that a student created as her WLE project at City Arts and Technology High School in 2007.

Teachers work as advisors and help each student find a mentor to guide their "real world" work experience. Mentors offer training and guidance to the students and assist them in making the connections between the world of work and the importance of doing well in school. Once the WLE begins, advisors visit the student on site throughout the semester to meet with the mentor and monitor the progress of the student.

What types of student internship programs does your district or school offer students? What are other ways that you are preparing students for the world outside school?

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Martine Kelsch's picture

Hi! Our school is one of the pioneers of the internship model in New York City. I think that our students value this experience so much and I have really seen personally how it can change them academically and emotionally. I think your school is definitely on the right track but maybe you could incorporate teachers or advisors a little more and have them be more involved! At our school we have staff that only focus on the internship department and go in the field regularly to open new ones and to visit students on-site. I must say that visiting students in the field is highly rewarding and amazing!! This is where you really see where their strengths and weaknesses lie, how they interact with the business, co-workers, etc. and it also helps in creating ideas for an amazing final project, which we also do.

I am planning on moving back to San Francisco this summer. I would love to work with your school and be part of something wonderful in my hometown!!

Martine Kelsch

gatortech's picture
gatortech
Technology Teacher

When I was young, I remember my aunt being in high school. Her high school provided vocational opportunities for students to explore and to gain work experience in field such as automotives and hair dressing. Although the program remained on campus, the students were exposed to real-world experiences. The student mechanics fixed cars and the hair dressers cut hair at discounted prices. I liked these programs because it allowed the students to explore the field they are interested in, work with a mentor, and learn what is necessary to achieve their goals.

Now, I have two boys in high school whose work experience entails working with their father in the family business. Have they learned from these experiences? Yes, they have learned a great deal, including it is a lot harder to make a living using your hands.
Although my boy's high school provides classes based upon what they think their Major in college would be, but what does that teach a Freshman and Sophomore? Do they really know what they want to do at that age without the real-world experience? I know too many people who went to college in hopes of finding the right job, but in fact, realized they did not like the field they chose once exposed to the real world. I don't want this to happen to my boys.

I would love for the Workplace Learning Experience to be put into place at their school. Students can gain on the job experiences while deciding if it would be the right job for their future. What a great way to incorporate the 21st Century Skills and enhance student achievement!

As an elementary technology teacher, I incorporate a program called School-to-Work to connect the students to the work force. Each grade level works on career and technology lessons to provide real-world experiences.
The kindergartners learn about careers through a letter of the week. They discuss jobs people do and then practice technology skills that support that occupation and their letter of the week.

1st Grade-in charge of the very busy and popular Cypress Ridge Mail. They sort and deliver letters from teachers, parents, and students. In addition, they use technology to support classroom lessons and are learning to do word processing, editing, and to design projects on the computer.

2nd Grade -runs the ink cartridge and phone recycling company. The proceeds from this project pay for the items in the Company Store, which is also run by second grade. Stamps, earned by all grades in technology class for doing their job, can be spent in the store. Students in all grades earn extra stamps by bringing empty ink cartridges for recycling.

3rd Grade - run a Candy Store for three days each quarter. The students select, order, and sell candy for their business. Each year, the profit is reinvested to purchase inventory for the next sale. At the end of last year, the third graders voted to purchase a digital camera, portable photo printer and parts for the button maker, which they will use in their fourth grade business in 2010 - 2011. In addition to learning about marketing and setting prices to earn a profit, they have completed several projects that support the concepts that they are leaning each week.

4th Grade -are responsible for the graphic design company. The students designed, printed, and manufactured buttons for a variety of purposes. In March, they designed, made and sold buttons at a local festival.

5th graders-design, write, and produce a daily morning news show and special segments.

Although the experiences are only at the elementary level, I feel it is a good start to connecting to the job market and the community. What a nice experience it would be for the middle schools and high schools to jump on board providing the Workplace Learning Experience program for their students.

M_Matthews's picture

I feel that offering these types of programs at the high school level will definitely benefit young individuals in finding what they would and wouldn't like to do in life. My biggest fear though is that the cuts in education will severely hamper the opportunities for students to choose the right major in college based on life experience. I'm actually doing an Internet Marketing Internship in this turn of the worse economy to get real world experience in SEO. So far the learning has been invaluable.

Kopgel's picture

Hi! Our school is one of the pioneers of the internship model in New York City. I think that our students value this experience so much and I have really seen personally how it can change them academically and emotionally. I think your school is definitely on the right track but maybe you could incorporate teachers or advisors a little more and have them be more involved! At our school we have staff that only focus on the internship department and go in the field regularly to open new ones and to visit students on-site. I must say that visiting students in the field is highly rewarding and amazing!! This is where you really see where their strengths and weaknesses lie, how they interact with the business, co-workers, etc. Genel Forum - Kopgel.net and it also helps in creating ideas for an amazing final project, which we also do.

I am planning on moving back to San Francisco this summer. Genel Forum - Kopgel.net I would love to work with your school and be part of something wonderful in my hometown!! Genel Forum - Kopgel.net

Jason's picture

This program sounds like great way for students to learn about future occupations, but also to pick up some of the skills it will take to be successful in general. Certain jobs may not be available for students in some areas, but that doesn't nullify the value of interacting with and learning from adults in a work setting. Even though several students in my high school had jobs, I don't know of many that really analyzed their experiences or thought of them in terms of their future.

Joy's picture

The Workplace Learning Experience is an inspiring program. I wish that this program had been available to me during my high school years. The school system where I live offers a training program through a technical center. The classes give students that opportunity to learn a skill that can be used for a precursor to an entry level position or college.

After view the video of the students who participated in the WLE, I believe that a majority of high schools students would benefit from an internship program. Students are not only able to gain skills, but they are able to acquire an understanding of what is required for the job they want to pursue. I can see where this program could help students in deciding which career path they want to take. Also, the WLE could help student make an informed decision regarding their major in college and avoid majoring in a subject that they will never work in. If a student does not decided to pursue a career in that area, he/she walks away with a real understanding of how businesses operate and what is required of employees. Having students analyze the work they participated in and present the information to the class, teacher and employee is a wonderful idea. Students have to commit to what they are doing and they walk away with additional knowledge and skill sets.

Alecia Dubose's picture

The high school that I attended offered a similar program for its seniors. This program was called, PROJECT REAL. Participants in the program were required to seek employment, preferably with an agency that appealed to them as a career choice. Students were required to attend "work" twice a week, as well as keep a log of their experiences (this was before the age of technology). The culminating activity was a paper that detailed the experiences of the students over the course of the project. I credit this experience as the foundation for my desire to become an educator. The experience was extremely worthwhile and meaningful. Before the experience I was torn between the fields of education and medicine. At the conclusion of the experience I knew unequivocally that I wanted to be an educator. I feel that similar experiences should be encouraged as a part of the curriculum for high school students as a vehicle of exposure for students to ease their transitions into the collegiate forum, and eventually the workplace.

Kari Ramirez's picture

I agree with the program. How many times do young adults change their majors in college? Why do they change them? They do this because when initially choosing they do not really understand what they want or how this will affect them. Once they begin learning within a chosen major, they realize whether or not they want to do it forever. With programs such as this, students can explore and become more aware and focused thus making better decision for their future. My school offers the typical vocation programs, but to make it their resposnsibility to seek out a company and internship is awesome. They will value it more and take pride in what they are doing. All schools pubic or private should look into this opportunity.

anil demirbulakli's picture

Looking back in my high school years, although we did have portfolio-based senior projects, we never were really encouraged to gain this outside work perspective you talk about. As a result, the outside business world was still very foreign to me, even throughout my college

Zedekiah Franklin's picture

In my high school we didnt have to do an e-portfolio based prodjects. The way that your school is doing these activities to get the students ready for college is excellent.

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