Work Based Learning: A Proven Model

The National Acamy Foundation (NAF) recently released Work-based Learning Exemplars: Worthwhile Internship Experiences for Students, Local Employers, and the Community. The report focuses on internships that NAF, a “network of career-themed academies that open doors for underserved high school students to viable careers,” studied to identify best practices in work-based learning. NAF academies, offering a rigorous curriculum in history, literature, mathematics, and science in public schools nationwide, also offer NAF certification to their graduates who:

1.      “Demonstrate career knowledge, skills, and proficiency through end-of-course and project assessments, each one directly informed by industry professionals; and

2.      “Complete an internship or culminating work-based learning experience that has been assessed by their supervisor.” 

Each academy is organized around one of five career themes: engineering, finance, health sciences, hospitality and tourism, and information technology. In school year 2011-12, some 60,000 students attended 469 academies in 39 states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The students also worked with employees from over 2,500 companies.

The report features four academies, two in finance and one each in engineering, and hospitality and tourism. 

The Southwest Miami High School Academy of Finance has a close partnership with the South Florida Educational Federal Credit Union to help students learn about money, investing it, and its benefits to a community. The credit union serves Miami-Dade County Public Schools employees, students, and families and the academy operates an in-school, student-run mini-branch of it. The credit union offers a free financial literacy program to students and teachers. It also offers an interview-skills “boot camp,” to help students improve their chances to get the jobs they seek. Sixteen students become interns at the credit union itself, the largest of the academy’s internship programs and one sought by as many as 200 applicants per year. Interns also run marketing programs for the credit union. 

The Lancaster High School Academy of Finance in Lancaster, N.Y., has an internship program in which, during the summer, high school sophomores interview a variety of employers, shadow two or three of them, complete a career interest survey, give three hours of community service, and journal about it all to learn where they want to be an intern. This expanded program, called “Career Discovery,” extends into other fields beyond finance. The connections the program has built and continues to build with local employers allow it to offer paid internships to all Academy of Finance juniors.  

The Harmony Magnet Academy of Engineering in Porterville, Calif., is developing an internship to connect its students with college students in engineering and architecture and with industry employees in related fields through virtual internships. The interns, who will work on a single design project identified as “an education center for autism,” will have tasks suited to their skills and useful to the participating firms. Porterville is a rural area, but through this use of technology the academy will be able to involve increasing numbers of students, who will earn high school or college credits and compete for stipends through the program. 

As one of its work-based learning opportunities, the Skyline High School Academy of Hospitality & Tourism in Dallas, Texas, sent students to help the Dallas Farmers Market learn how it might increase a diminishing flow of customers by marketing itself better. Students spent time observing and then interviewing both those selling produce and their customers. They presented their suggestions in a give-and-take forum to community business leaders, culminating in a 20-page report of recommendations for improving the viability of the market.