“Everyone has some special gift,” says Virginia Gibbs, the Coordinator of Innovative Partnership Development, Work-Based Learning and Youth Apprenticeships. “It’s a matter of finding out what each individual’s area of giftedness is and how they can best put it to use in their career choice.”
Work-Based Learning, which is managed by the Fayette Board of Education’s Career and Technical Education Department, offers students the opportunity to gain valuable work experience via internships that are part of their daily course schedules and also provide high school credit.
“Work-Based Learning connects three important facets,” says Virginia. “We combine student career interests and abilities, educational coursework, and structured work experience opportunities all together to give students an excellent foundation for their futures. We work with students interested in all types of future careers. We have future surgeons, future engineers, future auto mechanics – you name it, we have students interested in doing it. Our job is to help them get a good look at what the job entails and see if it’s a good fit.
“My daughter’s story is a great example of how internships can really help kids find their paths,” she continues. “She decided she wanted to be a veterinarian when she was very young, and she never wanted to do anything else. But when she interned at an animal clinic in high school, she discovered she didn’t enjoy the business end of being in a vet practice. She decided to go into research instead, and she’s now at UGA majoring in chemistry and working in a research lab. Without that internship, she could have gone all the way through veterinary school and started work only to discover she didn’t love what she was doing. Finding out early saved her – and us – considerable time, money, and disappointment.”
Work-Based Learning is available to all students in a variety of pathways, including fine arts, advanced academics, world languages, and career and technical fields. To be eligible, students must be 16 or older and at least a junior in high school. They must be on track for graduation, have transportation and parental consent, and have good attendance and behavior records. Interested students go through a formal application process, providing a basic resume and three teacher recommendations, then meeting with Virginia and ultimately interviewing with a business to see if the student is a match. Accepted students work a minimum of either five, 10, or 15 hours each week – the equivalent of one, two, or three school periods. Some students come into the program with identified employers, but the program also helps find matches.
“I’m in frequent communication with local businesses to find companies that can provide our students great opportunities,” says Virginia. “Companies need to have the necessary hours available and they also need to commit to providing a mentor who can help and advise the student during the experience. That mentor relationship piece is critical to truly maximize the learning experience for the student.”
Students also spend time each week in class with Virginia learning work-ready skills, from interviewing to professional dress to communications. Through this combination of education, mentorship, and work experience, students learn not only marketable skills and techniques specific to their future careers, but also valuable workplace abilities such as working in teams, leadership, problem-solving, decision-making, and independent motivation.
“Work-Based Learning can benefit students in a number of ways,” says Virginia. “For some students, it provides the opportunity to move into a career more quickly. For others it creates connections for future summer or part-time jobs. Others use the experience on college and scholarship applications and in interviews.”
“The key to understanding high school education choices today,” says Virginia, “is to remember that it’s rarely an either/or situation as it once was. The question is no longer whether a student wants to prepare for college or to prepare for a career. The question is: ‘What college AND career readiness options will work best to prepare each individual student for their future?’”
“We strive to provide each student an education that fits with their individual goals and interests,” says Virginia. “Work-Based Learning is a great opportunity to meet student needs while also benefitting the community by developing employability skills in future employees. That’s a critical point where economic development and education come together, and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
“Everyone has some special gift. It’s a matter of finding out what each individual’s area of giftedness is and how they can best put it to use in their career choice.”