Doctor2At White County High School (WCHS) in Sparta, Tennessee, students can choose from over a dozen programs of study in career and technical education (CTE). To complement its broad CTE offerings in mechatronics, welding, audio/visual production, agriculture, and other areas, WCHS also offers work-based learning that places 15 seniors each semester with local employers for real-world experiences in line with their field of study.

Participating students are typically at the workplace Monday through Thursday and then meet as a class on Friday with a work-based learning teacher to practice skills like résumé-writing and interviewing. Students also work throughout the semester to assemble a portfolio that provides evidence of what they have learned during their work-based learning experience.

WCHS has offered opportunities for work-based learning for several years, but the current program launched in 2014. What makes this program different, according to WCHS Academic Career Coach Terri Douglas, is the closer alignment between the student’s program of study and work placement. Students who are interested in the work-based learning program are interviewed by a committee consisting of CTE teachers, other school staff, and, whenever possible, a member of the local business community. Douglas is responsible for placing selected students with an employer. The 45 students who have participated so far have worked with 28 different employers.

For students interested in health sciences, WCHS offers a clinical internship program. Administered separately from the other work-based learning programs, this program gives juniors and seniors an opportunity to intern with local health-care providers. So far, most participants have completed their internships at Saint Thomas Highlands Hospital in Sparta. Through a partnership with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Livingston, WCHS students also have the opportunity to become certified nursing assistants.

pathways - White CountyThe White County School District has an active CTE Advisory Board that meets twice a year. The board helps to keep the community informed about CTE programs at WCHS and encourages local employers to get involved. According to Douglas, it was difficult at first to get employers to commit to taking student interns, but now that word about the work-based learning program has spread, more and more employers are interested in participating. Some employers have been so impressed with their interns that they have agreed to take multiple interns at once.

White County is a member of Pathways Tennessee, Upper Cumberland Region. Part of the multi-state Pathways to Prosperity Network, Pathways Tennessee aims to provide Tennessee students with rigorous academic/career pathways that are linked to labor market needs. White County is off to a promising start, but its current work-based learning programs are still very new. As more students graduate from these programs and move on to college or the workforce, it will be important to follow up with them to find out whether their work-based learning experiences contributed to success after high school.

(Thanks to Terri Douglas and Judy Guth for their contributions to this blog post.)

This is the second in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.