Voorheesville students learn about a range of careers after a semester with a new program

Emma Cunningham smiles

— Photo from Jeanne Young

Among the horses, Emma Cunningham smiles as she works at Glynhafan Farm as part of Voorheesville’s work-based learning program.

Last semester, a handful of Voorheesville’s high school students began learning about treatments for drug abuse, taking care of horses, or upholstering seats, among other activities in an effort to explore different careers.

The program, known as work-based learning, has been in effect just since September, while other area schools have used the concept for years.

Career exploration is a central part of the Tech Valley High School curriculum in which all students must participate throughout their four years at the school, which was launched as a model for other schools to follow.

Guilderland, a large suburban district, offers a popular program through its high school’s business department where students receive academic credit for semester-long internships.

All area schools participate in Board of Cooperative Educational Services programs which range from skills-based courses in fields like mechanics or cosmetology to New Visions courses where advanced students explore careers in fields like medicine or law. School districts get reimbursed by the state for part of the cost of sending their students to BOCES programs.

While many of the work-school programs are created for students to explore careers, some are created by businesses to foster needed skilled workers.

GHS internships

In the Guilderland school district, the business department offers a one-semester internship program. At a 2014 presentation, teacher Joan McGrath described how the internships, offered as elective courses, are student-driven.

Interns work five hours a week at a job site, totaling 55 hours at the completion of the course. They also have 27 hours of classroom instruction, learning skills such as interview techniques and resume writing.

In a report from the department, it was found that the internships were highly valued by students and parents, and 72 percent of students surveyed said the business course overall “had influenced their future career options and helped them make better, more informed decisions.”

Benefits for businesses

In research by Charlotte Cahill, of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, and Sheila Jackson, of Jobs for the Future, businesses were found to benefit from employing young people or using programs like internships. Businesses can create a “talent pipeline” to a diverse and innovative workforce of young people coming from such programs, they found.

Noted in the study is Albany-based Simmons Machine Tool Corporation. David W. Davis, who became the company’s president and chief operating officer in 2007, created a scholarship and internship program for students in the Advanced Manufacturing program at Hudson Valley Community College.

In 2009, he began communicating with high schools in the area and later Questar III Boces. He also collaborated in the launch of Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH). He is now working to develop internships for P-TECH students.

 

— Photo from Jeanne Young
Taking the reins, Emma Cunningham steadies a horse at Glynhafan Farm, where she works as part of Voorheesville’s work-based learning program.

 

BOCES and Career Technical Education

The Capital Region Career and and Technical School, which is run through BOCES, serves 23 school districts, including Voorheesville. Mike McCagg, public information specialist for Capital Region CTE, said the program has been around since the 1950s or 1960s, and offers courses for students with disabilities as well as skills-based and academic courses.

“We have the whole realm,” said McCagg.

“Our programs offer a very wide range,” agreed Valerie Kelsey, Deputy Director of the program.

She explained that Capital Region CTE has three campuses, one in Albany, one in Schoharie, and one at the Mohonasen school in Schenectady. Students are required to have a minimum of 54 hours of work-based learning completed; coursework is divided up by internal work-based learning and external work-based learning, said Kelsey, meaning that some career exploration is done on campus and some at a work site.

“It’s very hands-on,” she said. “They’re seeing the job; they’re not doing it by book.”

School districts pay to participate in the program; Kelsey said the amount depends on factors in the school.

Some students stick with one career path that they continue after high school, while others explore many careers, and still others may decide the career they looked into may not be for them, Kelsey said.

McCagg was concerned that there may still be stigma to the program.

“I’d say a good 75 percent...they’re learning a trade or a skill set, and then they go to college,” he said. He noted a cosmetology student who graduated from the program and went on to pursue a master’s degree in communication with the idea that her vocational skills would help her pay off her student debt.

Tech Valley’s “I-Term”

At Tech Valley High School, a joint venture of Questar III and Capital Region BOCES, work-based learning is an experience throughout the students’ time at the Guilderland campus located at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

Called “I-Term,” all 130 students must participate in this program, which allows them to explore various careers. Principal James Niedermeier explained that this begins freshman year with a two-week period in which students interview people or visit work sites in fields they’re interested in, as well see guest speakers at the school. They then present what they’ve learned with a poster they’ve made. Sophomores conduct similar work, exploring various career fields, and then present what they’ve learned orally.

In junior year, students have “extreme exposure” to a job by either 15 to 20 hours of a group internship at a business or the same hours devoted to an individually planned internship. Groups of students go to businesses and organizations ranging from 1st Playable Productions, a video-game design company in Troy, to Unity House of Troy, which helps victims of domestic violence. Students who chose an individual internship are responsible for planning it and providing their own transportation and resources.

All seniors conduct a 40- to 50-hour individual internship, although transportation and other resources are provided by the schools. Students have gone to the State Senate, pharmacies, and even international trips to complete their internships. This is capped off by a presentation in front of a panel of teachers and mentors about the four-year experience in career research.

Niedermeier says this program is just one part of the curriculum, but it works with the rest of the school’s coursework, which is based on project-based learning and learning skills best suited to the business world.

He says the I-Term program does benefit students; he sees them more comfortable speaking to adults, advocating for themselves, and enjoying going to school. He also said that there is a benefit to knowing about the variety of careers available.

“When I was a kid, I only knew about a couple of different jobs,” he said. He explained all the adults he knew were teachers.

“In high school, when someone asked me what I wanted to do, the one thing I could think of was a teacher,” he added.

However, Niedermeier admits that providing this world-view of careers can come at a cost.

“Transportation is a big expense,” he said. “We sacrifice in other areas.”

The school serves students from 31 school districts as well as bringing students to their internships.

Voorheesville’s new program

At the Dec. 12 Voorheesville School Board meeting, middle school teacher and work-based learning program instructor Jeanne Young went over the first semester in which work-based learning was put in place. Young described how over the past few months the program has been rebranded as the “Blackbird Career NEST,” which stands for “New Experiences Start Today.”

According to the State Education Department, “work-based learning” is a broad term covering any sort of collaborative efforts between an employer and a school to develop curriculum and activities for students, with the lessons taking place at a work site.

Voorheesville is registering for the state work-based learning programs General Education Work Experience Program, and Work Experience and Career Exploration Program this year, and possibly the Career Exploration Internship Program next year, Young said in an email to The Enterprise.

Young explained that the program had started out with 12 students, but that some lost interest. The program currently has six students enrolled, with four expressing interest in joining, she said.

In the first two months, students learned more about each other and their career goals, and then began setting up job placements as well as going through proper safety training and paperwork, said Young. Students began at their career placement in November. Young hopes to speed up this process in future years in order to start students at their career choice sooner.

Voorheesville’s program allows students to explore their career goals, and then work or intern with a business or organization similar to those goals. Young explained that four students in the program have been placed at a business or program. One student has worked with the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Another has worked at New Scotland Physical Therapy, and a third at Glynhafan Farm. A fourth student has worked at Capital Upholstery in the hopes of eventually designing motorcycles and their seats.

However, not all students in the program have been placed. One student currently uses the Capital Region BOCES program, and another is still waiting to be placed with a business or program, preferably involving finance.

Young said that the two students still not at a work site are using the program Google Classroom to learn with modules.  They also meet with Young regularly to set up a placement. She uses the Remind app to notify them via text or email to see her.

All six of the students go through modules on Google Classroom, and are building a “career readiness portfolio” to exhibit their experiences. Young says the students who are not placed by January will create a “virtual internship” to look further into their career field of interest.

Young does not want to limit the number of students who can join Voorheesville’s work-based learning, and invites more to participate. She would also eventually like to set up a points system, called the “Blackbird Score,” to earn points in order to qualify for a scholarship.

She has been approached by a student about setting up a “High School Heroes” program in which high school students teach elementary school students.

Young hopes to eventually integrate the program throughout the entire district, as a single career-exploration program.
“I would like to see a common, cohesive plan for career awareness, exploration, and experience for all students K-12,” she said.

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