Hidden Gems: Internship and Experiential Learning Programs

Article excerpt

When a program is approved for state/federal subsidy in the field of career and technical education, there is always a record on file with information about the program in the state education department. These records are for program approval, funding, status reports, or final reports. In the big picture of programs in the field of education, these subsidized programs represent only a small percentage of all programs in public schools. There is a much larger category of experiential-learning programs that exists within local school programs and curricula, funded as part of the local school budget, and are not documented outside of the local school program. In most cases, state education departments are not fully aware of these programs since they are designed to meet local needs of students and the community.

It is encouraging to see many schools willing to innovate within their curricula to meet specific interests and needs, and not be dependent on outside approval or funding. Teachers and administrators show leadership in program development as they offer unique programs that enhance learning and serve to offer more motivation to students in their related studies.

Here is a sampling of some program types:

* Many programs are for students who qualify based on academic performance, while others are based on career interests.

* In addition, there are programs that have a component to reinforce classroom instruction, or provide the opportunity to students to perform service within the school community or local community.

* There are programs that help students in their social adjustment and maturation process by providing internships that involve working with and helping others.

* Another category of undocumented programs is that of Special Needs, which has many innovative field-based learning activities designed to meet local program needs in helping students adjust and prepare for the future.

Related field experience to reinforce a student's instruction has been recognized as a positive factor in education. Many educators have shown interest in recent years in contextual learning, which could include field-based (experiential) learning. The lack of formal information about what is taking place and how the concept is being implemented has impeded the dissemination of such information.

Numerous educators look for ideas taken from other programs and literature to serve as a catalyst to strengthen programs in their own schools. There is a very strong interest in many schools to make instruction more meaningful to the real world through the use of related experiences for students that involve school credit and supervision. The concept of "learning by doing" from John Dewey is still with us and is being utilized more than ever.

Even when some teacher-education programs do not prepare teachers to incorporate experiential learning into their teaching/learning activities, local school programs do feel the need to provide these kinds of experiences to students. The application of learning as part of a school program is important and beneficial to both the student and the school. Students gain more insights and understanding as they see their information in use, and are able to use it in actual situations. They often become more competent and mature as they gain these experiences. Schools receive recognition for providing experiential learning opportunities to students, as well as the appreciation for the services and efforts that the students provide. This helps the school be a more integral part of the community.

In an effort to identify and share information about existing programs in local schools that utilize internships, field-based learning, experiential learning and non-traditional programs to meet local curricular needs, a study was conducted by this author. The Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Information Systems, Division of Data Services, provided information about school districts, secondary enrollments and school addresses. …