Local School-To-Work Partnerships
The School-to-Work (STW) partnership model is based on the idea that there are significant economies of scale in the provision of STW programming and therefore that groups of districts working together on relatively large projects will accomplish more than single districts working by themselves on smaller projects. As soon as a state has established a statewide partnership and begun to receive STW funds, local partnerships are formed. The local partnerships can then begin to apply for grants. Each state sets its own guidelines for local partnership structure and the grant application process. To be eligible for funding, local partnerships typically have to show that school districts are committed to the project, that at least some local businesses are active participants in the enterprise, and that the planned activities and projects will be of sufficient scale to benefit students in multiple schools and/or districts. Once a local partnership has met these criteria and received funding, the state appoints a grants facilitator who works with the partnership to implement the STW system it has proposed.
As noted above, the rationale for the local partnership structure is based on the idea that STW programming can be delivered more effectively if at least some activities are provided at an organizational level above that of the individual school or district. This increase in effectiveness can come about for a variety of reasons.
First, a local partnership can serve as a communication link connecting the participating schools and districts. In this capacity, the partnership can speed the flow of information about successful practices from one school or district to another. It can also gather and disseminate STW information from outside sources more efficiently than can be done at the level of the individual school.
Second, a local partnership can organize STW activities that need to draw students from multiple schools or districts in order to achieve the minimum scale necessary for efficient operation. For example, a specialized training program at a local business may only be attractive to one or two students at any single school. By making such a program available to students from multiple schools, a partnership can create sufficient demand to ensure its success.
Third, a local partnership can simplify the task of establishing STW links between individual schools and local businesses. Very often, schools do not have the resources or contacts necessary to reach out effectively to local businesses. Local partnerships, in part because business representatives sit on their board, typically have these resources or contacts. In addition, in providing services to students, individual businesses typically prefer working with a central organization rather than a multitude of individual schools.
Fourth, a local partnership includes representation from a broad range of industry and therefore has more knowledge about appropriate regional industry clusters for curriculum development than do individual schools. Participating businesses can then be involved with schools in writing standards and identifying industry skills.
The end result is that the local partnership structure greatly expands the information and opportunities available to individual schools seeking to establish STW programs. Schools have access to a larger number of industry options and workplace experiences for their students and greater information about effective practices elsewhere than if they were working entirely on their own. All of these programs perform one or more of the above partnership functions for participating schools.
The types of programs described in this section have been undertaken by a variety of local partnerships with considerable success. In all cases, coordination at the local partnership level has given individual teachers, districts, and schools opportunities that they would not have had working on their own.
Establishing Educator in the Workplace Opportunities
Educator in the Workplace programs provide work site experience for teachers. Their primary goal is to expose teachers to business issues and to increase their awareness of the skills necessary for successful employment. Some programs put teachers in the workplace for periods as long as an entire summer. In other programs the experience is of shorter duration, sometimes only a single day. The outcome is that greater knowledge of business operations, career opportunities, and the daily demands of the workplace will enable teachers to better prepare their students for the real world of work. The most effective programs require teachers to develop lesson plans based on their workplace experiences. Participating teachers also often prepare staff development programs for their colleagues based on their workplace experiences. In all cases, local partnerships institute the Educator in the Workplace opportunities for teachers.
Making Business Connections
Many partnerships have established ongoing links between educators and local business in order to foster easy communication. Programs have business representatives serving on boards which visit schools and classrooms regularly. Partnerships also sponsor events that foster on-going dialogue between teachers and employers. The local partnership contacts businesses and facilitates the communication with schools.
Developing Career Awareness Programs
The STW mandates that participating schools provide career awareness activities in the K-12 curriculum. To provide career awareness more efficiently, many local partnerships are developing career awareness materials and/or organizing career awareness activities and then making them available to all districts and schools in the partnership. Many partnerships have developed collections of career awareness materials available at either central locations within the partnership region or on a website developed by the partnership. Partnerships also arrange for local business representatives to visit school and give, in classrooms, during assemblies, and on career days, presentations which describe alternative career paths.
Providing Student Work Experiences
Partnerships draw students from many school districts and place them in a variety of programs from full paid internships to job shadowing experiences. Because the local partnership is involved, these opportunities are available to many more students. Some partnerships have made the provision of student work experiences and student participation a requirement of the STW program.
Operating Student Camps
Intensive career exploration is made possible for students through summer camps. These camps rely heavily on the participation of local business. They give students the opportunity to experience an in depth look at one or several careers. Because they are arranged at the partnership level, students also have the opportunity to meet students from neighboring school districts and businesses have the opportunity to reach a larger number of students.
Improving School District Communication
Many partnerships have assembled collections of STW best practice materials drawn from the experiences of schools and districts both within and outside the partnership. These publications typically include not only descriptions of individual projects, but also a variety of supporting materials such as forms, letters, curriculum links, and evaluations by both students and teachers.
In addition to providing information in printed form, partnerships often conduct best practice seminars and workshops for a broad spectrum of STW participants such as teachers, school administrators, parents, and employers. These programs serve many purposes for local partnerships: the ability to share developed materials and programs among school districts; the opportunity to keep the lines of communication open between educators and local businesses; and an occasion to promote the STW initiative.
Developing Regional Career Related Skills
The development of career clusters is integral to the STW model. Local partnerships are able to provide the information and resources necessary to schools in order to develop realistic career clusters. The participation of area business in this process is vital to its success. Partnerships have put together teams composed of both educators and business people to outline skills that are focused on specific occupations or industries prominent in their region.
There is a need to create new curriculum materials to enhance the school-based learning component of STW programs. Often, these materials are based on the general competencies and specific skills. Local partnerships have frequently taken the lead in helping to prepare these materials. In some cases, partnerships merely provide financial support to educators to write the appropriate manuals and lesson plans. In other cases, partnerships have been involved in the development of project-based curriculum development.
Local STW partnerships are just beginning to have a significant impact on the STW programs of individual schools and districts. Partnerships have instituted many valuable programs for teachers and students, established connections with local businesses, and initiated STW curriculum revisions. The longevity of these programs beyond the STW funding remains to be seen, however, if educators, businesses, students, and parents see a benefit to the economic development of their communities, continued local support for these initiatives is possible.