Many critics claim that public education in the United States is too far removed from the real world and its conditions. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, many American schools still resemble their Industrial Era forebearers, hindering modern education by trapping both students and teachers within rigid bureaucracy and outdated methods. Many students complain that school is boring and does not resemble the real world, with teachers and administrators echoing the same things. Students want teachers and administrators to acknowledge that the real world is more fluid and exciting. Teachers and administrators want students to realize that the real world is far tougher than the nurturing and confidence-building mission of most contemporary education. How can they bridge the gap and make high schools and local communities more integrated?
A good way to explore this integration is to set up apprenticeship and internship programs with local businesses for academic credit. Students must complete a certain number of credit hours to graduate from high school, with most courses being required classes in core subjects like Math, Science, English and Social Studies. But where electives are concerned, couldn’t high school students be given academic credit for completing monitored internships with local businesses?
For example, instead of taking years of journalism and yearbook classes, a student could get identical academic credit for completing internships with local publications, such as the local newspaper. In addition to preparing teenagers for the internships often undertaken at the college level, these high school internships can double as work experience, giving an invaluable boost to the mostly-bare resumes of graduating seniors. Students can benefit by getting a look at how real-world businesses and organizations operate, perhaps convincing or inspiring them to buckle down and pursue their dreams.
The community benefits by accepting high schoolers as interns and apprentices, with local businesses getting to provide more input into education practices. Though the first few semesters of internships may not be as smooth as desired, feedback from participating businesses can help schools improve and tailor the programs to the mutual benefit of both the business sector and the school district. Eventually, with positive word-of-mouth, local businesses can recruit high-performing high school students to participate in internships and apprenticeships, building positive relationships with those students that could lead to long-term hiring opportunities.
Positive internships and apprenticeships completed during high school for academic credit could help a town reverse a “brain drain” where graduating high school seniors permanently move away. Having an inspiring internship during high school could make a college graduate decide to return home after college to work for the business that inspired him or her.
Finally, positive relationships between business owners and managers and high school students can help businesses better recruit, train and employ teenage labor, as well as market products and services to teens and young adults. Businesses who have a mediocre track record of dealing with young consumers might benefit from offering internships to high school students, who could offer meaningful suggestions in a formal academic setting as to how the businesses could improve their relations with local youth and young adults. Businesses who accept youthful advice might find themselves in the position to develop long-term, repeat clients, both among local youth and their acquaintances.