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Work-based learning (WBL)–a practice that allows students to apply classroom taught skills in a practical, real-world setting–is an important strategy in supporting students as they solidify skills and prepare themselves for the workforce. Unfortunately, in rural communities, education agencies can face significant hurdles in implementing those skills. On October 15, education experts and rural practitioners will come together to present the REL Central webinar Delivering Work-Based Learning in Rural Schools. The webinar will help rural education agency staff and education policymakers better understand potential challenges to WBL and best practices to help those programs succeed.

The benefits of WBL are well established. Through WBL programs, such as internships, mentorships, and apprenticeships, students are able to apply classroom academic and technical skills, foster employable skills, discover career options, become aware of postsecondary education and training needs, and build relationships with workplace professionals. However, challenges exist in implementing and sustaining the programs. Those include state policies limiting academic credit outside of classroom environments and difficulties developing partnerships with business. In addition to those concerns, rural communities face further challenges.

“While rural schools are similar to other geographic areas in that they must find ways to develop relationships with the business community and work with state legislators to align credit requirements,” said webinar presenter Steve Klein, director for the Center for School Family and Community at Education Northwest, “they also face a number of unique barriers. Those include a limited variety of businesses for students to intern with and the distance separating schools from employers.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) Nation Center for Education Statistic’s report (Gray and Lewis, 2018), challenges, like those mentioned by Klein, help contribute to significantly fewer WBL program offerings in rural communities. To help rural administrators and state leaders address these challenges, webinar presenters will discuss research-based methods, frameworks, and strategies rural populations have used to successfully bolster their programs. Those include the Work-Based Learning Tool Kit designed by the ED to support agencies in developing and implementing ESSA-required WBL.

In addition to learning about resources, attendees of the webinar will hear from practitioners like Sarah Bird, curriculum, instruction, and assessment director for Boone Central Public Schools in Nebraska, as well as Neal Wolf, agriculture instructor and Future Farmers of America advisor from Salem R80 School District in Missouri. Both presenters will describe successful WBL programs and the strategies used to implement them in their districts.

“Salem R80 School District’s mission is to ensure every chance for every child to become a safe, respectful, and responsible learner for the 21st century,” Wolf said. “Enabling students to experience potential careers and practice job skills provides them with another chance for future success.”

To learn more about the challenges facing rural school WBL programs and proven, research-based strategies to help implement and run WBL programs, please register for the webinar Delivering Work-Based Learning in Rural Schools.

Gray, L., and Lewis, L. (2018). Career and Technical Education Programs in Public School Districts: 2016–17: First Look (NCES 2018-028). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [August 13, 2019] from