Work-based learning propels students toward jobs

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, June 14, 2022

The Lincoln County School District continues to push forth new tools to engage students, while at the same time teaching them lifetime skills.

Work-based learning is just one of those tools, but it’s the one putting students into jobs, some even before they graduate high school.

Work-based learning (WBL) uses school and the work place as a partnership to teach students skills and knowledge of a particular subject. For example, a student could be enrolled in high school, where he would take regular classes as well as work-based courses on welding, and use that knowledge while working at a job site.

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In the end, the student would learn both academically and physically for his chosen profession, allowing him to graduate high school with the skills necessary to be hired immediately.

In fact, many of these LCSD students already have a permanent job using those skills before they even leave school.

The Mississippi Department of Education reported that there are “more than 500 schools and 15 community and junior colleges … offering CTE instruction in 49 distinct occupational areas. Students may enroll in CTE programs in secondary, postsecondary or short-term adult sessions, as well as through industry training or business and industry partnerships.”

That means it’s never too late to learn a skill that can get you into the workforce.

“The implementation of work-based learning into the curriculum offerings in the Lincoln County School District has roots that run back several years,” said Lincoln County School District CTE Coordinator Robin Case. “[While] our district does an exemplary job of providing academic opportunities for students who plan to pursue post-secondary education at college, what we were lacking was a program to facilitate those students who either choose to enter directly into the workforce or attend a career-technical program after high school graduation.”

Case said that one of their former LCSD instructors – seasoned agriculture instructor Billy Sumrall – did much of the background work to find a program that would fit LCSD students’ career needs as well as being feasible and sustainable within the constraints of the system.

“The resulting discovery was the North American Welding program,” Case said. “This series of courses allows students to attain skills that will garner nationally recognized welding certifications (after testing is successfully completed). These certifications range from the most basic to much more advanced, depending on a student’s level of interest and commitment to the course work.”

Case has high praise concerning LCSD Superintendent David Martin, who saw the potential this would access for LCSD students. “Mr. Martin took the concept to the Lincoln County School District Board of Trustees, who were extremely excited and supportive of this prospect,” Case said.

From there, an application process resulted in the selection of four students from each of county high school to participate in a pilot program of the welding curriculum. “Our district purchased equipment and supplies needed to instruct these classes with fidelity,” Case added.

One unexpected blessing, in the midst of COVID 19, was the allowance of a virtual day each week for students. The welding program instruction was implemented each week on Wednesday. From the inception in October 2020 until school was out in May 2021, the students came to spend four to six hours each day honing their new skills.

At the end of the pilot program, those 16 students had attained more than 60 welding certifications, Case said.

“While the welding program was obviously needed and applicable to our students, the next goal was to implement it into a course that allowed students to gain Carnegie units, which count toward their graduation requirements,” she said. “Thankfully, the Mississippi Department of Education, in conjunction with several other state and federal agencies, recognized the need for more workforce training at the high school level. Thus, adding work-based learning into our course offerings at Lincoln County was a natural next step.”

This past school year, WBL was physically offered at Enterprise and Loyd Star, and Bogue Chitto and West Lincoln students were afforded the chance to attend at those locations.

“We are thrilled to announce that the WBL classes will be extended to on-site at West Lincoln for the upcoming school year,” Case said. “A new agriculture science building is in the works at Bogue Chitto. As soon as this building is completed, our district will be able to offer WBL on site there as well.” Until the building is completed, Bogue Chitto students can attend at another location.

Martin said at a recent school board meeting how excited he was as to how things are moving along for WBL at the LCSD. New shops in the planning stages will ensure every high school will have a place to teach about real-world experiences in the technical, agricultural and industrial world outside school grounds.

Students accomplish credit for WBL through the simulated work environments the LCSD has created in agriculture science shops or they can attain credit from actual employment.

“Businesses may hire students to work outside the school day, if prescribed graduation prerequisites and conditions are met,” Case said. “If employers are willing to maintain proper documentation of the hours worked and skills acquired, the student may receive credit for WBL.”

Classes are taught by LCSD agricultural teachers. “A lot of times, the misconception is that all we do is teach farmers,” said Jeb McBeth, who teaches at Loyd Star. “We do teach farmers – of course – but we also do a little bit of everything – animal science, plant science, soil science. All go hand-in-hand with students who will study biology or something in the medical field.

“We also teach agricultural mechanics, like welding, small engines, diesel mechanics. There is a broad spectrum in the way they are all interrelated.”

Ag teachers are the first line of education for these students; the next involves local employers willing to take on the challenge.

Case said that local businesses and industries are key to the success and longevity of the WBL venture.

“The outpouring of support through donation of materials, providing expert citizen demonstrations and speakers, in addition to hosting our students for experiences at facilities outside the classrooms, has been overwhelming,” she said. “Employers need a skilled workforce. Our goal is to provide our students seeking these career-technical pathways with a solid foundation to build upon in their future employment.”

Instilling solid work ethics into LCSD programs is a key component for long-term success for students, Case said.

“Compliance to workplace safety rules is vital,” she added. “In order to create a ‘real’ work environment, we have implemented the use of time clocks into the shops for WBL students. On the job, employees are held accountable for the time they are required to be on the job. Students are learning valuable skills that we anticipate will translate into better on the job performance.”

Case was appointed to the position of director of Career Technical Education for the LCSD in July 2020. Prior to that, she served as the principal of Loyd Star School for more than a decade.

“We were blessed to have built an agriculture program at Loyd Star that was progressing toward meeting current workforce needs,” she said. “The dedication put into the program there, by multiple people, helped pave the way for the vision to spread these opportunities across our entire school district.”

Interested students must be at least 16 years of age and enrolled in the 11th or 12th grade of high school. WBL I and II classes will be offered at Enterprise and Loyd Star this year, with WBL I offered at West Lincoln.

Eventually, WBL I and II will be offered at all campuses.