On the Job

Work-Based Learning Provides Crucial Experiences for Students

 Northeast Lauderdale High School senior Tamara Goines serves freshman Lauren Dupont from one of the Coffee Express Carts. NHS seniors Tal Griffith, Tamara Goines, and Carley Monsour use coffee carts as a COVID-friendly replacement for the Coffee Express they typically run from the café in their Work-Based Learning classroom.

Left: Northeast Lauderdale High School (NHS) (Lauderdale County School District) senior Tamara Goines (left) serves freshman Lauren Dupont from one of the Coffee Express Carts.

Right: From left to right: NHS seniors Tal Griffith, Tamara Goines, and Carley Monsour use coffee carts as a COVID-friendly replacement for the Coffee Express they typically run from the café in their Work-Based Learning classroom. This fall, teachers requested the carts by email. Some used the visits as an incentive, while others invited the cart daily or weekly.

South Panola School District’s Work-Based Learning students toured Pride Hyundai this fall and learned about the automotive industry, careers, the car-buying process and types of vehicles. Arionna Odom, a third-year Business, finance and marketing (BFM) student, works at her internship with Singing River Federal Credit Union.

Left: South Panola School District’s Work-Based Learning students toured Pride Hyundai this fall and learned about the automotive industry, careers, the car-buying process and types of vehicles. Pictured from left to right are ZyKerria Sanford, Calvin Cole, McGheyla Patton, Riley Houston, Keontrae Ellis, instructor Robert Barnard and Tony Benson, the floor sales manager for Pride Hyundai.

Right: Arionna Odom, a third-year Business, finance and marketing (BFM) student, works at her internship with Singing River Federal Credit Union (SRFCU) during third and fourth blocks of school. SRFCU recently opened a branch inside the library of Pascagoula High School and is looking at opening another at Gautier High School (Pascagoula-Gautier School District). Students from the BFM program train during the summer after their junior year and will work at the branches inside their respective schools then go to the main office and finish their day on the job.

Heather Craig

Mississippi’s career and technical education (CTE) students have the advantage of earning credit for early work experiences through their local centers under a new course called CTE Work-Based Learning (WBL) this academic year.

The WBL I and II courses were developed over the last year by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) in partnership with the Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU). Formerly called Career Pathway Experience, WBL provides opportunities for Mississippi students to gain work experience under the guidance of WBL coordinators at their local CTE center. The update was necessary to align the program with 2019’s federal Perkins V agreement.

“We want the students to have authentic work-based experiences,” Carol Ballard, the MDE’s WBL supervisor, said of the redesign.

The updated courses and standards are designed to provide consistent guidance for WBL programs across the state. The standards emphasize getting students as much work experience as possible through as many hours in the workplace as business partners can provide.

“There is still seat time built into the courses, but we really focused on getting the students out of the classroom and into the workplace,” said Denise Sibley, a senior research associate at the RCU.

Ballard and Sibley worked closely together to develop the new standards and guidance for the program. Ballard agrees the focus of the changed course is to get students into the workplace so they gain valuable experience and employability skills while still in high school.

“We wanted to make sure students were learning on the job and not just in the classroom,” Ballard said.

The new standards ensure students, teachers, parents and employers work together to make sure the program is successful in providing the kinds of experiences that new-to-the-workplace students need to succeed. Many topics — from observation and employment law to résumé building and interviewing skills — are considered in the new guidance, which was written in such a way local centers can easily accommodate the program’s requirements, uninhibited by their own needs, opportunities and resources.

“We were adamant about writing these standards in such a way that every center could apply them in their own situation. That’s not to say we lowered our expectations. The integrity of the standards is uncompromised,” Sibley said. “We intentionally kept the diverse personalities of the centers in mind, making sure that the variability of resources available from center to center throughout the state was considered, and that the standards were written generally enough for each one to be able to adapt to the demands of the new course.”

The updated standards and guide are only the beginning of the MDE’s efforts to provide increased support to WBL programs.

“One of the things we’re working on is creating a resource page for the teachers,” Ballard said. “We want the teachers to have a way to connect with each other and share success stories and ideas.”

New outreach ideas are coming to Ballard every day.

“We’re one of the best-kept secrets,” she said. “There are so many businesses out there that don’t know about us, so we’re working on a Mississippi work-based learning brand,” she said.

This branding effort will be led by a task force of WBL teachers and students. Like most of the WBL efforts, the creation of this marketing campaign will provide students with work experience to which they would not otherwise have access. Ideas include creating a brochure, logo and sticker for businesses to display and show off their partnership, and other recognition opportunities for partners.

While the classes are offered in CTE centers, it is a common misconception that WBL is reserved for students already taking other CTE classes.

“WBL is available to any student interested in job shadowing and developing valuable workplace skills,” Ballard said.

Beyond being open to all students, Sibley said she finds the program vital in encouraging success among underserved students.

“I want WBL teachers to feel encouraged to consider students who may be overlooked for WBL opportunities based on their academic success,” she said. “Sometimes we make the easy choice by looking at a student’s academic aptitude in deciding whether or not they would be a good candidate for WBL, when there are all kinds of reasons a student who is not a stellar academic would be a great employee and could benefit from this early, guided work experience.

“What we’re doing pushes them to find what they love to do and take off from there,” Ballard added. “We hope this is a launchpad for many students to get to do what they love to do.”

Work-Based Learning: Myth vs. Reality
Myth Work-based learning (WBL) is best suited to students who consistently excel academically.
Reality All students — particularly those who are disengaged and need a challenge — can benefit from WBL instruction.
Myth Only the best and brightest will represent their schools well enough to qualify for WBL.
Reality WBL partners understand they are training young, inexperienced employees and welcome the challenge of helping students who may appear to lack direction or may not be star students.
Myth WBL instructors have it easy because their students are not always with them.
Reality WBL instructors have serious responsibilities to juggle, including making sure partnerships with businesses remain strong, that students are treated with respect and fairness and that students are trained in workplace skills and are consistently showing up to work.
Myth WBL instructors do not have much to do once their students start working.
Reality WBL instructors conduct observations, travel to and from students’ places of employment, meet with local business leaders to create partnerships, gather evaluations from employers, track hours and manage student-employer relationships, in addition to checking the pulse of their students’ learning and offering lessons catered to students’ needs.
Myth WBL students can learn the workplace skills they need in a traditional classroom setting.
Reality Ideally, WBL teachers help students connect with employers, educate students on soft skills and assist them with creating successful work experiences.
Myth WBL is just another name for College and Career Readiness (CCR).
Reality WBL students will receive a CCR credit, but CCR has more seat time, with students working on résumés and soft skills in the classroom. CCR does not have the hands-on work-experience element that WBL includes. WBL is the application of CCR skills.
Myth WBL is an opportunity for students already involved in career and technical education (CTE).
Reality WBL is open to all students, including academic students who have never participated in CTE before.
Myth WBL opportunities only happen outside of the school.
Reality Depending on the instructor's assessment of his or her students’ needs, WBL teachers have the freedom to meet their students where they are. Teachers whose students may not have the resources to travel to and from a job site often create work opportunities within the school. These businesses range from coffee shops and snack bars to T-shirts sales and school supply stores.


ABOUT CONNECTIONS

Connections is the magazine for K-12 career and technical education (CTE) in Mississippi. The biannual publication features students, educators, schools, and organizations from approximately 50 career pathways across 16 career clusters. This Mississippi Department of Education publication is produced by the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University. Issues are disseminated in print and electronic forms in May and December each year.

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