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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2002
Vol. 59
No. 7

Ready for the World

An innovative program links the worlds of school and work to engagestudents in learning and develop their professional and academic skills.

Two months before his high school graduation, Russell Crotts stood in a staff room filled with U.S. Coast Guard crew members, engineers, and officers; the station captain; his high schoolteacher; and his parents to answer the question, “What skills and knowledge are necessary to be a successful member of a Coast Guard boat crew?” It was the culmination of his15-week internship with the Coast Guard. In that time, Russell had researched the history of the Coast Guard, participated in training exercises and live rescues in San Francisco Bay, and served as a member of the crew. He also had reflected on and applied knowledge gained during high school—for example, he demonstrated how he could chart a course back to the station by using the principles of trigonometry if the navigation instruments failed while at sea. At the end of his presentation, Russell successfully tied a bowline knot, a traditional task for a boat crew member.
Angelica Salazar presented her political action project—an investigation of homeless issues—to more than 100 educators at the California School to Work Conference. Two years earlier, she had sat in her counselor's office with her parents as they looked over her sophomore report card—a mosaic of Ds and Cs, with many unexcused absences. After her presentation at the School to Work Conference, Angelica was invited to make the keynote address at the first annual Young American Leadership Institute in San Diego. Her internship experience had transformed her from a struggling, disengaged teenager into a poised, skilled, and empowered young woman.
Russell and Angelica attribute their success to an extended off-campus work experience that teaches professional skills, promotes academic achievement, and uses a rigorous set of academic and professional standards. Known as a standards-based internship, the program is at the heart of the curriculum developed in Academy X, an innovative leadership and humanities academy open to all 11th and 12th grade students at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo, California.

Building an Academic Foundation

The academy emphasizes building a foundation of knowledge and skills through traditional classroom assignments and project-based work in an integrated humanities and social sciences environment. Students take three academic courses each semester in such subjects as government, economics, American literature, essay, and oral rhetoric. In addition, students enroll each semester in Workplace Learning, an elective course emphasizing professional skills development and technology.
At the beginning of the year, students develop community norms for their behavior and learning and review student work completed by students from the previous year. The students also read Habits of Mind, by Art Costa and Bena Kallick (1998), to create guidelines for effective learning and to assess their own learning styles, strengths, and challenges. Through these discussions, students see the high level of work expected in the program, internalize the standards of Academy X, and—most important to their future success in an independent internship—understand their strengths and challenges as learners. For many students, particularly those who have been disengaged from school in the past, this course provides their first opportunity to examine in depth their attitudes toward learning and achievement.
In the grading process, the students are exposed to a rigorous assessment system that measures a variety of content and skills, incorporates authentic work, and takes place in front of an adult audience.

Developing Professional Skills

Academy X teachers began developing the program by posing two questions: What will students know and be able to do at the end of the internship? How will students, teachers, and parents know that the standards for professional skills have been met? To answer these questions, the teachers adopted a list of seven professional skills developed through WestEd, a regional education research laboratory that focuses on such issues as standards and assessment (see fig. 1).
Figure 1. Professional Skills Assessment Rubric

Ready for the World - table

Personal SkillsRecognize how personal skills affect employability. Exhibit positive attitudes, self-confidence, integrity, perseverance, self-discipline, responsibility, and craftsmanship. Manage time and balance priorities. Demonstrate a capacity for growth, development, and self-reflection.
Interpersonal SkillsUnderstand key concepts in group dynamics, conflict resolution, and negotiation. Work cooperatively, share responsibilities, accept supervision, and assume leadership roles. Demonstrate cooperative working relationships across gender and cultural groups.
Thinking and Problem-Solving SkillsExhibit critical and creative thinking, logical reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Understand systems. Apply numerical estimation, measurement, and calculation, as appropriate. Recognize problem situations; identify, locate, and organize needed information or data; and propose, evaluate, and select from alternative solutions.
Communication SkillsUnderstand principles of effective communication. Communicate both orally and in writing to a range of audiences in a variety of ways. Listen actively and follow instructions, requesting clarification or additional information as needed.
Project Management Skills Show proficiency in project planning. Set goals and develop strategies to meet the goals in a timely manner. Acquire and use information and resources to implement strategies. Evaluate the effectiveness of students' approach.
Professional AwarenessUnderstand the necessary skills, education requirements, and professional opportunities of chosen fields.
Technology SkillsKnow when it is appropriate to use technology, what technology to use, and how to use it to perform tasks and enhance work.
Authors' note: The Sir Francis Drake Professional Skills Assessment (PSA) portfolio was produced by WestEd for Sir Francis Drake High School. It was supported by federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, contract number RP91002006, 2000.
Students begin work on these skills early in the year by reviewing the professional standards for which they will be held accountable and creating an electronic portfolio for work that will demonstrate the competency requirements for the standards. Students add to their portfolios throughout the year, and by the end of the year, their best writing, exhibition assessments, project work, and personal pieces are in their portfolios. Teams of teachers and parents evaluate the portfolios and give a score that becomes the grade for the Workplace Learning course.
Beginning in late October, students work together on a theme-based project. The students form research teams to develop questions, bring research results back to the group, and define further tasks. As the semester progresses, students are increasingly allowed to venture off-campus for their research.
One year, for example, the students investigated funding for school facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area. The students studied government and economics, focusing on such topics as the structure of the California state government; the relationship of local, state, and federal government; and bonds and taxation. For the Oral Rhetoric and Writing course, the students read essays and articles, prepared a “speech to inform” on the basis of their research, and delivered a “speech to persuade” on the topic of high school reform. Along with providing solid academic work, these activities enabled students to become proficient in public speaking, presentation software, and Web site design—all necessary skills for the internship experience.
The fall project ends in December with an exhibition to the local community and published products—such as Web sites, videos, or formal reports—that can be shared with parents, community members, and teachers. For the project on school facilities funding, students traveled to the California state capitol in Sacramento to present the results of their findings to the governor's office, the relevant committees of the state senate and assembly, and the members of state government who are responsible for school facilities funding. Through the project, students learned academic content, mastered crucial project skills, created a product to share with an adult audience, and practiced self-management and self-motivated learning.

Standards and Structure

The primary focus of the academy is a 10- to 13-week internship during which students spend two days each week on the job, four and one-half hours each day. The internships begin in January, but preparation for the internships takes place throughout the fall semester. The structured internship goes beyond the usual goal of exposure to the world of work and provides support to the students who need it while challenging high-achieving students to apply their knowledge and skills to a professional standard. Every component of the structured internship is designed to promote learning, provide individualized support, and hold students accountable to rigorous standards.
The Academy X internship can be divided into four elements: the meaningful project, the essential question, the on-site mentor, and the exhibition.
The meaningful project. In cooperation with a teacher and workplace mentor, each student develops a meaningful project that contributes to the work of the organization, such as designing a Web site; creating case studies or demographic studies; producing brochures, videos, or radio spots; or conducting action research field studies. At the end of the internship, students exhibit the results of their project to parents, teachers, and the staff of the organization.
The essential question. By the third week of the internship, students are expected to choose an area of research or concentration and to frame their work in terms of an essential question. The questions are designed to point to the heart of the subject; generate multiple plausible answers, perspectives, and research directions; lead to discovery and “uncoverage”; engender further interest in the subject; highlight oddities, historical controversies, and dilemmas; and demand “higher order” thinking (Wiggins, 1998).
  • What professional skills are essential in the field of clothing design, and how are these skills applied on the job?
  • What are the economic and education implications of mandatory class size reduction in grades 1–4 in California elementary schools?
  • What are the most effective ways to lobby the state legislature to increase funding for school facilities?
The questions are formatted using a problem-based, inquiry model. Students are expected to answer three questions: What will be the final product? How will it benefit the workplace? What will the student learn, including content and skills, in the process of completing the project?
The essential question provides a focus for academic work and defines the workplace project. Teachers can individualize readings and class assignments, and students often complete research papers in the classroom related to their questions. By linking classroom learning to their work projects, students make explicit connections that help them transfer knowledge to future situations, including standardized tests.
The on-site mentor. The on-site mentor is crucial to the success of the internship, both to monitor progress and to help design the project. Teachers, mentors, and students meet at the beginning of the internship to establish workplace expectations, design projects, and clarify internship assignments. A teacher visits each student on the job at least once a week. As the internship progresses, many students begin to work independently and productively; others need more frequent conferences.
Although mentors are willing to serve, they usually need training in the concept of academic rigor. To do this, we share with the mentors the professional skills on which the students will be evaluated, as well as the academy's guidelines and expectations for students. At the end of the internship, mentors complete a skills evaluation that contributes to the student's grade.
The exhibition. The most important component of the internship is the exhibition. Students need to be able to understand, articulate, and clearly demonstrate the skills and knowledge that they have learned during the internship, and parents need to see the value of their children committing nearly 90 hours to work outside the classroom.
At the exhibition, students give a presentation of their project, including findings from their research, conclusions or actions, and recommendations or completed products. The exhibition includes a 7–10 minute PowerPoint presentation and time for questions from the audience. Students deliver the presentations at staff meetings or before large gatherings of employees. Teachers and mentors score the exhibitions, which are then added to the students' electronic portfolios.

Succeeding in School and Life

The Academy X program has increased enthusiasm for the learning process among students, parents, and teachers. Most students report the internship as their most significant school experience. This enthusiasm transfers directly to the classroom, where students often achieve more academically. The academy has had particular success with students who previously had been disengaged from learning, had atypical interests and talents, or had special education backgrounds. Internships give students the opportunity to explore and learn about topics related to their own interests and experiences. By structuring their own internships, the students learn how to turn individual learning experiences into quantifiable academic successes.
The program's success is also evident in improved scores on district reading and writing assessments. Eighty percent of Academy X students meet the standards set in the professional skills rubrics, and in 2000, all special needs students met the standard. Further, 90 percent of Academy X students go on to college.
The success of Academy X and the standards-based internship model points toward a bright future for a high school curriculum that integrates the worlds of the classroom and the workplace—that offers students rigorous and relevant education.

Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2000). Habits of mind: A developmental series. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wiggins, G. (1998). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Thom Markham has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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