Work-based learning program kicks off in August

The Red Oak School District’s work-based learning program is making strides.
Junior/senior high school instructional coach Janelle Erickson said the program, is now called Forge: Confidently Forge Your Path One Experience At A Time. Erickson and her team are working hard to forge ahead with getting the program moving.
“Our work-based learning team is meeting on a weekly basis so we can stay up with the updates that need to happen, the work that needs to happen, and make sure things remain a collaborative effort,” Erickson said.
Erickson added that one of the goals of the program is to create a collaborative effort with all of the areas in the district that are currently offering work-based learning, or are planning for other opportunities to offer experiences to the students.
“We have a number of organizations identified under that umbrella of work-based learning, including iJag, the Career and Technical Education program, as well as the Career Academy offered through Southwestern Community College. Additionally, we will have internships, and a project-based course that will be included in course offerings for next year. They’ll essentially be part of the work-based learning programming,” commented Erickson.
Erickson said the program is split up from the ninth through the 12th grade, with different offerings for each grade level, beginning with the youngest students.
“At the ninth and tenth grade levels, the kids would have the opportunity to make different types of visits out to the community to the different partnerships we develop and build through out work-based learning program. We’d also do lots of surveying with them and determining who they are, what their interests are, and what their passions are,” advised Erickson. “We’d work out that whole piece for them, so they have a better understanding of what experiences they want as they get a little older, and they can use the visits throughout partners to get a good idea of what’s out there and offered in their own community. We’d also continue to do job fairs with the ninth grade kids, and have partnerships with people in the community and helping set up job fairs within our school so they can get an idea of what they’re interested in. We’d focus on determining interests, determining career awareness, and investigating careers themselves.”
As the student progress to the eleventh and twelfth grades, Erickson said the program gets more extensive and offers more opportunities for experiences.
“In grade 11, you might see things like career exploration, projects created to career interests, opportunities where they can gain professional knowledge and experience, career and interest focused exposure and experiences, and opportunities to make connections with local professionals,” explained Erickson. “There would also be structured career focused training and mentoring, experiences related to career pathways of their choosing, professional knowledge and skills, and career seeking skills.”
Erickson said one of the programs they are working on for the development and launch for the 2024-25 school year is the collaborate project class.
“There is a course offered through the work-based learning clearinghouse program. It’s being worked on by people that have been developing work-based learning programs all through the state. They are building partnerships with businesses all over the state of Iowa, and I can get on the website as a teacher and look at projects that are available from a variety of different businesses and schools. There are many opportunities on the website already to determine their areas of interest, and they can pick and choose a project,” stated Erickson. “As a teacher, I can oversee the project with the kids, and they are working with industry leaders that have put the project on the floor and established connections and experience in those areas of interest. We’re going to offer one ourselves that is built on our own community partnerships, so kids will be going beyond the school walls to do these projects.”
The main timeframe of this activity will be during the students’ junior and senior years, to determine true interest, and internship opportunities will be sought.
“Any career possibilities they want experiences with, they can use this program to see if they really are interested in it and to give them some experience before the go off to college or go into the workforce. These are going to be areas we try to establish internships for the kids. Those students can then take the internship class and we will work with our partners to design internship experiences based on the areas they want the experience in. Currently, the kids in my class would be all over the board as far as where they want internships with. I have students with interests in the nursing field, the veterinary field, and the construction field for example,” advised Erickson. “We need to work hard to get a wide variety of partnerships within our community to give the kids the necessary opportunities.”
Erickson said they are currently developing initial training plans for internship opportunities. Erickson said the class is on track for establishing the relationships, having met with former Red Oak Chamber Director and School Board President Paul Griffin in November.
“Paul is with Parker Hannifin now and was very excited to talk about this, and he’s been wonderful in providing help and feedback and perspective as an industry leader. Together, Paul and I have put together a list of industry leaders to be a part of this. We have established a work-based learning advisory committee that has met, and includes five different business and industry leaders who have participated. This is the beginning stage, and we’re going to get their ideas and keep growing from there as far as building more partnerships. I’m going to be going out myself into the community and getting into a lot of different businesses here in town and talking to them about this opportunity,” said Erickson. 
Erickson said they are continuing to work on the course manual as well and doing trainings, as well as having coursework and the program examined and reviewed by the school’s legal department.
“After that’s taken care of, we’ll finalize everything in the manual including the courses and begin recruitment. That will take place in March through May of this year. We want business partners, but we also want the kids, so we have to have this all put together and ready to promote to the kids about what the program is and the opportunities they will have if they sign up for the program,” Erickson commented.
Erickson also submitted information for an Iowa STEM Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers grant.
“We’ll be hearing this month if we received anything for that. The funding will help us with purchases of materials needed. They would also be available for the kids to use for any of their needs as well,” Erickson said. “If we fail to receive the grant, we’ll work on a plan B.”
Erickson said she had talked with iJag representatives about what would be an appropriate number of kids to recruit for the program.
“The iJag coordinator said they have a limit of 60 kids. I also discussed the internship piece, because there’s only so many kids you can serve well. As the overseer, I have to get out into the areas doing internships and work with their supervisors. They can also do internships through CTE areas and others. We have not put a cap on the number of students yet, but there will be a limit to how many kids we can recruit into the program,” Erickson said.
Also, the kids can just do internships without taking the project class, and vice-versa.
“Ideally, the kid would have the ability to take the class when they are a junior or a senior, and I would like it to be a semester class that the students can take more than once, as each time they take it, it would be a completely different experience since they would be choosing a different industry for their project. The internships would be for seniors only, as those students have a background and knowledge of what they want to do,” Erickson stated. “But the seniors can do an internship without taking a project class.”
The program is different than the senior release program, as it is more structured and is exposing students to a depth  and breadth of experiences, and students will get coaching and support from the local businesses. The students will be getting more than just work experience, as the students are being developed beyond minimum wage jobs.
The businesses will provide the opportunity and content to learn, and Erickson will work with the business to make sure they are meeting business expectations, identifying things the child needs to work on to get better, and providing coaching to the students.
“It’s going to be a little different for everyone, but the good thing is that we have identified objectives, skills, and competencies we want to focus on. We’re following the Iowa CORE Universal Constructs. We felt it was really important to stick with what’s been embedded and infused in the curriculum levels,” explained Erickson. “These steps have been proven, and they are going to be part of our advisory committee communication and feedback process. Everyone within Red Oak who wants to be a partner with us agrees that these are good to focus on and are what we need.”
By focusing on the CORE Universal Constructs. Erickson said students will be able to apply the skills as they go out to work for the various businesses and industries.
“They come back, we work on the skills, and they go back and apply those skills. But it does require a partnership and it requires me to be communicating with the people they’re working with outside the school, otherwise, this all will fall apart,” Erickson said. “There will be some growing pains, and maybe some industries that may say it won’t work out, and we’ll just have to keep moving on.”
The partnerships will also involve explicit contracts in regards to liability, and while the students will be in a business, they are in an educational setting, which means that generally, the district’s liability insurance would cover the students. The contracts will be negotiated specifically to each partner business, as each business will have a unique risk. Non-disclosure agreements may also be implemented.
Erickson will be communicating with all of the businesses that this is an educational setting, and provide clarity over expectations of what the businesses wanted for each child to do.
The biggest hurdle the school would likely face is that  a few businesses and industries may want to be a part of it, but there would either be too few or too many students interested in the internships during their senior year. In that case, the businesses would need to be patient, and there may be times where only one student takes part in an internship every other year, or every three years, depending.
“The project-based learning class will be instrumental in providing an opportunity for kids to work in areas others may have concerns about. If the student can’t go there physically and work, they can still take on a project and get a ton of learning through that project-based learning class. It can still happen, and will provide numerous opportunities for partnerships for us,” Erickson said.
Plans call for the program to be launched when the 2024-25 school year kicks off in August.

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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