Improving Student Outcomes Through Work-Based Learning Opportunities

Work-Based Learning: Strategies for Enhancing Student Outcomes and Career Readiness edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Work-based learning is providing a way for school and district leaders to increase the relevance and value of secondary education, while also offering opportunities for the practice and application of new skills in supportive environments.

During the edLeader Panel “Work-Based Learning: Strategies for Enhancing Student Outcomes and Career Readiness,” Shannon Shelton, Director of Work-Based Learning for the North Kansas City School District (MO), and Kelly Cooper, Chief Secondary Academic Officer for the Iredell-Statesville School District (NC), discussed effective work-based learning programs now underway in their districts.

Moderator Erica Hart from EVERFI began the discussion with a definition of work-based learning, which included alignment of classroom and workplace learning; the application of academic, technological, and employability skills in a work setting; and support from classroom and workplace mentors. She also provided a diagram of career-readiness skills that can be developed through work-based learning, ranging from interpersonal and academic skills to digital literacy and problem solving.

The Eight Degrees of E

In the Iredell-Statesville School District, more than 70% of the 21,000 students do not pursue four-year college or community college degrees. The goals for high school students have traditionally been one of the three E’s—Employment, Enlistment in the military, or Enrollment in college—to which Entrepreneurship has recently been added as a fourth E.

To help all students, including those with special needs, achieve one of those four goals, the district starts providing a variety of E-related opportunities in elementary school and continues them through high school. In the upper elementary grades, the emphasis is on Energizing students in regard to potential careers and Exposing them to the realities of work. This is done in a variety of ways, including coding and robotics camps and the use of virtual reality headsets.

During seventh and eighth grade, the focus is on Exploration, which occurs through field trips and tours of local businesses, as well as a STEAM competition, and the development of career inventories. In ninth and tenth grade, the emphasis switches to Experiences, which can include job shadowing, mini internships, and career cafes.

For juniors and seniors in high school, there is support for deciding on one of the four E’s (Employment, Enlistment, Enrollment, or Entrepreneurship) through aligned courses and work-based learning, which can include credentials for post-secondary work or study. Some local businesses even offer pathways that will help pay for college as high school graduates transition into the workforce and pursue their careers.

The Four “Schools of”

In the North Kansas City School District, there is a similar student population of over 21,000 and a similar progression of work-based learning opportunities and career exploration during high school. The pathways are defined differently, however, and the district has scaled up its organization to work effectively with more than 500 business and industry partners.

Career pathways in North Kansas City have been organized into four “Schools of,” with one comprised of Business Leadership and Entrepreneurship, and another including Design, Innovation, and Technology. The third is Health and Wellness, and the fourth is Public and Human Services. Students can combine work-based learning experiences through multiple schools, rather than being limited to just one.

The progression of experiences includes guest speakers in ninth grade, followed by mock interviews, industry-themed projects, and resume writing in tenth grade. Juniors can complete client-connected projects and participate in job shadowing and mentorship programs. Seniors complete a culminating experience, while early college career academies and off-campus experiences are embedded throughout the four-year continuum.

To develop and maintain the business and industry partnerships that provide work-based learning opportunities for the students, the district uses online advertising and provides marketing materials, as well as resources like a mentor handbook. There is also a computer system that tracks when and how businesses participate, which is linked to data on the participation of individual students. Resources for educators are also available online, such as a form teachers can use to request specific types of guest speakers.

Communication is streamlined through the participation of facilitators at each school and key contacts at each company. And, according to Shelton, who directs the program for the North Kansas City School District, throughout the program there is an emphasis on providing meaningful experiences rather than just checking boxes.


Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Work-Based Learning: Strategies for Enhancing Student Outcomes and Career Readiness, sponsored by EVERFI from Blackbaud.

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Article by Robert Low, based on this edLeader Panel

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