The role of work-based learning in developing character and citizenship

Jazlynn Walker is a senior at GPS Education Partners and is expected to graduate in the spring of 2018. She hails from the School District of Marinette in Wisconsin and is enrolled in the Peshtigo BPM, Inc. education center through the GPS Education Partners program. This means she learns in a classroom for up to three hours every weekday and spends the rest of her day learning on-the-job with a business partner, UTC Aerospace Systems in Peshtigo, WI.

While educators know that inconsistent teachings and contradictory home-life create challenges in character development, an immersive, work-based learning environment gives students full access to mentors and role models who can provide stable guidance. And for Jazlynn, UTC Aerospace Systems is just that kind of supportive environment.

Mentoring and access to adult-influencers has created a transformative experience for Jazlynn. In traditional high school, she was like any other teenager—she was on the shy side, she worried about school, she spent time with her friends. Today, her teacher says she carries herself with confidence and purpose.

UTC Aerospace Systems recently gave Jazlynn an employee review. Her energy at work attracted the attention of a new mentor—from outside of her department—whom Jazlynn impressed by how open she is to new possibilities. They love watching her grow, even in how she handles difficult situations. She’s a team player who they want to keep in mind for future employment opportunities.

This is in line with a key teaching philosophy for GPS Education Partners: character and leadership is most transformative when educators demonstrate, teach, and support students while they make the transition from school to adult work-life.

Jazlynn distinguished herself among her peers, too. For example, Jazlynn had an opportunity to play and read with children at a local elementary school. While many teenagers would have clocked-in their service learning hours and called it a day, Jazlynn wholly connected with a first-grade student. She noticed this girl was the only student without her own bean bag chair, so Jazlynn bought a chair for the girl that evening and dropped it off with her teacher the following day.

“What does it mean to be a contributing citizen?” That’s a major project component in the Road to Employability for GPS Education Partners students. A work-based learning environment helps to answer that question by reinforcing commitment to service-learning projects, character and leadership development conversations, and real-world practice.

Moreover, because GPS values are aligned to effective employment and engaged citizenship, its students’ decisions can be understood as “rubber hitting the road” in character and citizenship. In Jazlynn’s case, her skills in teamwork or her initiative, drawn out through work-based learning, may motivate her altruistic instincts.

GPS Education Partners has learned that immersive, work-based learning has the power to drive character into action, lay the foundation for positive role-modeling, and, ultimately, transform young adults. Just ask Jazlynn.

Expanding CTE, character formation should advance together

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Several states are highlighting and expanding career and technical programs for students after years of focusing mostly on college preparedness, and experts say students will need character and citizenship in addition to an industry credential to truly thrive.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s a shift from focusing purely on college readiness to thinking also about career readiness,” Jennifer Thomsen, policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States, told Education Week.

“For the longest time, the ‘career’ part just kind of dropped off. But now, states are really getting back to the idea that college and career readiness really does mean both of those things,” she said.

The news site points to recently approved legislation in states like Arizona, where officials have worked measures of career readiness into the school accountability system, and Kansas, which pays schools for each student who earns an industry-recognized credential or completes 120 hours of work-based learning.

In Colorado, a new law requires schools to discuss certificates, apprenticeships, and military service with students during career counseling, while Oregon approved a law to ensure the state’s labor bureau shares apprenticeship opportunities with schools.

Idaho now requires schools to inform students about dual high schools and college credit opportunities for career-tech courses, while education officials in Texas must work with colleges and workforce departments to post an inventory of certification and credentials available to students for high-skill trade occupations.

Other states, including Illinois and Virginia, are making it easier for schools to recruit career-tech-ed teachers by waiving some licensure requirements. In Indiana, state officials approved legislation to require the state board of education to use workforce data to design new career and technical education pathways and alternative avenues to high school graduation, Education Week reports.

“For too long, we’ve been focused on four-year colleges, and that’s not necessarily the right course for every student,” Indiana state Rep. Robert Behning told Education Week.

Behning said he helped craft the changes to career and technical education in the Hoosier state because he wants schools to “get creative, think out of the box” to help students with career-focused programs.

Other states are including completion of career programs on high school diplomas to help the business sector find students with the right skills for the job.

Meanwhile, others point to important though less obvious skills and virtues students will need to thrive in trade occupations.

Mike Rose recently addressed this in an essay, “Vocational Education and the New World of Work,” in The Hedgehog Review.

“If the theorists of the new world of work are right, then tomorrow’s CTE student will need to be computer savvy, resourceful, and entrepreneurial. But the theorists’ predictions suggest the need for other educational goals as well. Intellectual suppleness will have to be as key an element of future CTE as the content knowledge of a field . . . Students will need to learn the conceptual bases of the tools and techniques and how to reason with them, because future work is predicted to be increasingly fluid and mutable,” Rose wrote.

“These considerations will require a philosophy of education that has at its core a bountiful definition of intelligence and that honors multiple kinds of knowledge and advances the humanistic, aesthetic, and ethical dimensions of an occupation as well as the more traditional academic of study.”

Rose contends schools should “educate young workers so that they have multiple skills and bodies of knowledge to draw on, so that they are able to analyze and act upon opportunities to affect the direction of their employment, and so that they can strive to create meaning in their working lives.”

To that end, states and schools could ensure students are intentionally formed to have good character by thinking through the virtues required by specific professions.

The UK’s Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues provides resources for educators to help students make that connection between their career or technical training and the moral virtues they’ll need on the job.