Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Building Bright Futures: Preparing Students for a Career

Creating a smooth transition from school to career is this headmaster’s goal for her students.

July 1, 1997

Juliette Johnson went from student to teacher at Brighton High School, which focuses on relating school work to future careers.

Credit: Juliette Johnson

When I entered Brighton High School in Boston as a student in 1957, preparing for the world of work was relatively simple. All I had to do was enroll in a college, business, or general course of study; take the required classes; and decide whether to go on to college or accept one of the many jobs available to high school graduates. As a female, my career choices were pretty much limited to secretarial work, cosmetology, nursing, sales, or education. I chose the college track, applied to teacher education programs, and, after getting my undergraduate degree, returned to the classroom to offer my students the same workplace preparation I had experienced.

Since then, the relationship between school and work has grown more complicated. Economic, social, and technological changes have created limitless career possibilities for both men and women, while at the same time increasing competition for employment. Basic reading, writing, and calculating skills are no longer enough to land a good job. Today's employers demand more specialized skills and knowledge as well as greater adaptability from workers.

Creating a smoother transition from school to work for Brighton's graduates has been an important part of my job since I became headmaster in 1982. The school I inherited was different in some ways than the one I attended: desegregation and demographic shifts had combined to produce an enrollment made up largely of minority students, many of whom had limited English-speaking proficiency. Despite all the changes in the outside world, however, the school's curriculum offerings and instructional practices were essentially the same as when I was a student. Our students and teachers ached for programs that would provide meaning and relevance. Thanks to a collaboration with the Private Industry Council (PIC) -- a coalition of business, government, education, and community leaders committed to helping prepare Boston's youth for work -- we were able to begin addressing this problem during the 1980s. Funding and expertise from PIC helped many of Brighton's students develop job skills and find employment.

Then, in 1990, we were able to launch a more extensive school-to-career program. That year, Brighton established the School of Health Professions in response to a mandate that all Boston high schools develop a magnet theme. About 250 of our 1,100 students are in the program. Their core academic classes are supplemented by such courses as Introduction to Health Careers, Anatomy and Physiology, and Medical Techniques. During their junior year, these students spend fifteen hours a week exploring and learning about more than twenty health occupations. They also have one afternoon a week when they rotate through different departments like pediatrics and physical therapy at six local hospitals. Seniors are placed in paid internships at health care facilities, getting hands-on work experience in specific medical specialties.

Some Health Professions students are part of a 2+2 course of study coordinated through ProTech, a districtwide school-to-career program sponsored by PIC. They get two years of training in high school plus two years of higher education at local colleges and universities, graduating with an associate degree in a health care field. As part of their studies, Health Professions students are exposed to many new technologies. They use the Internet to conduct research for class projects, exploring huge databases of health and medical information from government agencies, universities, professional associations, and other institutions. Their hospital rotations and internships give them a solid introduction to the many high-tech tools used in caring for patients. And every student at Brighton is required to take at least one computer science course to graduate, because we know technological literacy is a prerequisite for success in today's digital workplace.

The curriculum for the Health Professions program reflects extensive research into the needs of employers. Our first year was spent forming relationships with local health care institutions, community colleges, and businesses. We also visited several high schools around the country with similar programs and got assistance from ProTech. Periodic visits to health care employers help us keep our curriculum and instructional strategies relevant.

Health Professions faculty members model the "hard work" pathway to success by putting in long hours preparing instruction and continuing their professional development. Each has been extensively trained to integrate various computer technologies into subjects like biology, biotechnology, and genetics. A full-time coordinator acts as a liaison between school and placement sites and is responsible for the program's overall management, which includes supervision and evaluation of teachers, parental outreach, development of internships, and student placement and monitoring.

For students in this program, school has more relevance to work, and work experience has reinforced the need for schooling. It helps them focus on real-world goals and develop their work ethic. They have a deeper understanding than the average high school graduate of the proficiencies, attitudes, and sophisticated skills it takes to survive in today's job market. They are more confident about their own abilities and sure of the direction in which their lives are headed. Their on-the-job experiences give them additional support in reaching their goals; hospital staff are role models and mentors who become involved with students' lives and have a stake in their success.

Of the thirty-two students in a recent graduating class from the School of Health Professions, twenty-eight were accepted at two- and four-year colleges that offer degrees in health-related fields and the other four are working full-time in local hospitals. The program is still too new to have produced its first doctor, but I'm sure it will soon. We're considering expanding the school-to-career concept to additional occupations, because we see that students who attend school with a sense of purpose achieve greater success, have greater self-esteem and confidence, and get a clear head start on a bright future.

Juliette Johnson was the headmaster at Brighton High School.

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  • Project-Based Learning (PBL)
  • Career & Technical Education
  • 9-12 High School

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