This past May, as the school year drew to a close, staff at Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) were already busy planning for fall. Working closely with a team from REL Midwest, a group of IPS district and school staff, along with EmployIndy partners, discussed action items to boost student participation in work-based learning. The planning session was the culmination of a months-long collaboration designed to strengthen the district's career pathways and programs of study, particularly in career and technical education (CTE).
Like many districts across the nation, IPS is committed to growing its immersive work-based learning opportunities as a way to help students explore career paths and build skills in real-world settings. But multiple challenges, from transportation issues to a lack of awareness, can make attracting students to these programs difficult.
includes immersive experiences that students carry out at employer work sites, such as paid and unpaid internships and pre-apprenticeships. Other work-based learning models build students' work skills in the classroom, such as in capstone classes and real or simulated school-based businesses.
To better understand and address such challenges, an IPS team partnered with REL Midwest to carry out three activities: developing and administering surveys, mapping work-based learning processes, and generating action plans. At IPS, the project brought together members of the Postsecondary Readiness team, including the CTE pathway director, work-based learning staff, counseling staff, and career academy staff.
The first step was to gain deeper insight into IPS students' experiences with and views of immersive work-based learning. With REL Midwest guidance, the IPS team developed online surveys for three groups: (a) high school students enrolled in CTE courses, (b) CTE teachers, and (c) assistant principals and counselors who determine student eligibility and placement in CTE programs of study. The REL Midwest and IPS teams also jointly developed a survey for parents/guardians in English and Spanish, which will be administered in the future.
The surveys asked respondents to indicate their familiarity with the district's work-based learning opportunities, experiences with and interest in work-based learning, perception of the barriers to participating in work-based learning, and possible misconceptions about work-based learning. In addition, respondents were asked to note their preferred communication methods for receiving information about work-based learning to help inform student participation and placement.
Over a period of 10 weeks, IPS staff administered the three surveys1 across four district high schools that have a large CTE career pathway presence.2 The REL Midwest team then analyzed the responses and shared the results with the larger team. Table 1 highlights the key takeaways.
Table 1: Key Takeaways From IPS High School Students and Staff on Work-Based Learning
Jenny Berry, CTE pathway director at IPS, noted that "getting the input from stakeholder groups was valuable through the surveys, particularly from the student perspective. It is great to learn that the students who have participated in immersive experiential learning are finding it beneficial and additive to their program of study."
Building on the surveys, REL Midwest and IPS held two sessions, in February and March, to map the steps in the district's work-based learning processes, such as the steps involved in matching students to employers. This activity enabled the team to better understand how IPS identifies work-based learning opportunities, communicates them to students and families, and helps students take advantage of them.
Current process. The first session generated two maps that depicted the district's current process for immersive work-based learning—one map from the student perspective and one from the employer perspective. The team then used the maps to identify and prioritize five challenges related to work-based learning participation.
Desired process. At the second session, the group mapped the district's desired process for immersive work-based learning, again from both a student and an employer perspective. This second set of process maps included improvements designed to address the challenges prioritized during the first session. To guide the activity, the group agreed on seven principles for effective work-based learning, such as, "We ensure high-quality career exploration, assessment, and matching for our students." The team then considered each stage of the desired student process and employer process to identify what was needed to implement it.
In April and May, the IPS and REL Midwest teams came together to turn their hard work into reality. During three virtual sessions, the team drew on the information from the surveys and process maps to create prioritized action plans for the district's work-based learning program.
The team at IPS is now working to implement the plans they developed with REL Midwest. CTE Pathway Director Berry noted, "Working with REL Midwest has truly benefited the team. It allowed us to think through processes at a deeper level and understand the importance of having aligned systems for both students and employers. It has led to the development of structures and protocols that were created and supported by the entire work-based learning CTE team. I know we'll continue to refine and strive toward continuous improvement now that we have intentional and actionable practices in place."
REL Midwest is partnering with state and district educators to strengthen CTE, career pathways, and work-based learning in Indiana and across the Midwest. To learn more, browse the following resources:
1 The REL Midwest and IPS teams also jointly developed a survey for parents/guardians in English and Spanish, which will be administered in the future.
2 The Indianapolis Public Schools team received a total of 712 survey responses from 689 students, 11 teachers, 2 assistant principals, and 10 counselors.