As any graduate has discovered, there’s a difference between work and learning about a job in a classroom. The Troup County School System’s work-based learning program is designed to bridge that gap by giving students experience in their chosen field before graduation.
Students now choose a pathway in school, like a major in college, to study in their chosen field. The work-based learning program allows students to receive class credit for working at a job.
“Some are aligned with their pathway, some are not,” said Patsy Smith, coordinator for work-based learning at Troup High School, about jobs students currently hold. “We’re trying to reconfigure that. We want to get all the students to where they align with their pathway.”
Students who participate in work-based learning at THS can use either one or two classroom periods at the end of the day to go to their job. For those that take one class period, they are required to have at least five hours per week, or 90 hours at the end of the semester. For those that take two class periods, at least 10 hours of work per week, or 180 hours per semester, is expected.
“We want to show them what it will really be like” in the working world, Smith said. “… I try to find them training stations, jobs where they can learn in their chosen fields.”
Students who do work in a field they plan to continue in after school get a head start on finding out if they are in the right pathway, Smith said. For students like Casey Watts, who works at Quality Machine on West Lukken Industrial Drive, the opportunity allowed him to get into a field he enjoys.
Watts was a metal shop student at THS before the program closed. After attending a job shadow at Quality Machine and Fabrication, he approached Bill Holloway about a job there. He was hired the next week, and Feb. 8 will mark a year working at the shop.
“It’s something I like doing,” Watts said of his job.
Watts gets to run a lathe and help with jobs like repairing and fabricating replacement rollers for area mills.
“I learned a lot of tricks” of the trade, Watts said of working at the shop versus taking classes. “Mr. Bill has taught me a lot.”
After he graduates, Watts wants to attend tech school for welding and college for machining.
Kinsley Hanners is an intern in the program, which means she doesn’t get paid. Choosing the education pathway, Hanners works with Kindergarten team leader Kimberly Fitch at Whitesville Road Elementary School.
Hanners works with the young students and helps Fitch with lesson plans and preparations after students leave. As part of her internship, she also is required to lead three lesson plans during the semester.
“It’s helped a lot,” Hanners said of the hands-on experience compared to learning about it in a classroom. “Seeing how the children act and react (is very valuable). You’re not just hearing it from somebody else.”
Hanners said the internship has even strengthened her resolve to become a teacher.
“I like it a lot,” she said. “All the kids are really nice, they like me a lot. It’s really sweet.”
Fitch said Hanners has a natural ability with the children and is always willing to stay late to help her prepare for the next day. Hanners also has been a part of school meetings and faculty discussions, giving her insight into what teachers do after class.
“She’s also seen some of the last-minute things that pop up,” Fitch said. “As a teacher, you have to be flexible. That’s something that she’s learned.”
At Troup High School, students also have the opportunity to work out of the school in Amy Hicks’ graphic arts shop and Lamont Pitts’ automotive shop. Students in both shops are paid employees of the school system.
Hicks takes jobs from the school system, alumni association, non profits and churches for printing fliers, business cards, publications, posters, banners and anything else the shop can produce. Three students currently work in the shop, taking on jobs with deadlines to meet and customers that they need to please.
The shop makes enough money to cover its costs, Hicks said, so it doesn’t cost the school system any additional money.
Trevor Spradlin, one of Hicks’ students, said Hicks convinced him to come work in the shop. He enjoys working with the offset printer, which can print small publications. He plans to operate a screen-printing business one day and the program has allowed him to already get certifications in design and sign printing.
Alyson Brooks, another of Hicks’ students, said she wants to get into graphic design and loves the idea of being able to create “something from nothing.” She said working with real clients and deadlines gives students in the program a true understanding of what is expected of them.
In Pitts’ automotive shop, Nick Nixon and Hunter White were working on a county-owned vehicle that needed repair. Students in the automotive program work on practice units and models, but once participants in the program they have the knowledge, they relish being able to “dive in” and work on the real thing, Pitts said.
Nixon and White both plan to work in the automotive or diesel field later. Nixon also works at LaGrange Toyota.
“You do hands-on stuff all the time in here,” Nixon said.
White added that the program allows students to get a real perspective on things that they talk about in class.
“It clicks more than just reading it in books,” he said.
Pitts also allows Nixon and White to supervise other students, giving them experience not only in working on engines, but management.
Smith said although many students in the program have a foothold into gainful employment, and many can earn certifications while participating, most plan to get post-secondary education in their fields.
“We’re trying to bridge that gap,” she said of allowing students to gain experience in their field before committing to it after high school. “… We’re not just teaching them to graduate, then go straight to work.”