Education

Schools Use ‘Work-Based Learning’ To Prepare Atlanta-Area Students For Jobs

Fulton County students in the district's work-based learning program attended an expo
Fulton County students who participate in the district's work-based learning program attended an expo on Oct. 13. About 1,000 students are enrolled in the program.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE
Audio version of this story here.

As elected officials and other stakeholders try to recruit new businesses to the Atlanta region, they want to make sure there are enough qualified workers here for companies to hire.

As a result, many public school systems have focused on making sure students are “college and career ready.”

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One way schools and districts are trying to prepare students is through “work-based learning” programs, where students earn school credit for paid internships in a given field.

Yalanda Bell, Fulton County’s work-based learning program administrator, says internships are valuable for students, even if they don’t end up working in that particular field.

“They’re still learning those employability skills, like learning how to read a paycheck and showing up to work on time,” Bell says.

Career academies, like this one in Rockdale County, offer courses in fields like the culinary arts to give students an idea of what jobs in different fields are like.
Career academies, like this one in Rockdale County, offer courses in fields like the culinary arts to give students an idea of what jobs in different fields are like. (Martha Dalton/WABE)

Helia Taba, a junior at Northview High School, participates in Fulton’s program. She’s known since she was 8 years old that she wanted to be an orthodontist. So, at 2 o’clock each weekday, she interns at an orthodontist’s office.

“I shadow him. I learn the application process, the taking [braces] off, and how to respect the clients and everything,” she says.

On the weekends, she works at a fitness center.

“I’m at the member service desk,” she says. “It teaches me a lot of communication skills and computer skills.”

Bell says internships can also teach students the steps they need to take to meet their career goals.

“[They may realize] Maybe I don’t want to work at fast food for the rest of my life, so this is what I need to do to get a step up to make sure that I can maybe own that fast-food establishment or restaurant or go into something else,” Bell says.

She’s talking about students like Josh Izenson. He’s not working in fast food, but he isn’t sure yet what he wants to do career-wise. The senior at North Springs Charter High School interns in the accounting department of an Atlanta manufacturing firm.

“I’m in charges of all those invoices that come in, I do all of the accounts payable stuff,” he says. “So, I send them to other clients, other divisions. I submit them in the computer, got to organize all of them.”

Knowing how to do all of that is worthwhile, Josh says, even if he doesn’t go into accounting. And he says working in an office setting has taught him how businesses work.

Work-based learning is just one answer schools have come up with to help fill workforce needs. High schools offer career pathway programs, career academies and apprenticeships where students can get job experience. Some middle schools now offer career technology classes. Science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — programs are growing increasingly popular in elementary schools.

All of it is aimed at making sure schools produce enough skilled graduates to fill the jobs Atlanta hopes to attract.

Correction:  The name of the Fulton County work-based learning program administrator has been corrected.

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