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Engaging Students with Hands-on Work Experiences

Bob Lenz

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

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

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.

I actually did do something very similar to what you describe in your post when I was in my later years in college but it made me scratch my head and think..Do we really want our future generation having to wait that long to forge a connection the outside business community?

Perhaps a better question is: Why aren't you offering internship-like programs in your school?

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