Experiential Learning: Career Academies and the Student Workplace Learning Experience

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:07 am
Jennifer Dick's picture


We’ve taken a look at how experiential learning at Frida Kahlo High School is changing the way students learn in Los Angeles, CA to provide challenging, meaningful experiences for youth. Another experiential learning approach that educators can take is to integrate career-focused project-based learning and soft skills into the curriculum. The most comprehensive way to do this is through career academies, small learning communities that explicitly link core academic content to a career theme.

Career Academies
This idea of connecting rigorous academic content and classroom experience to a career field, and bringing youth and caring working professionals together, has proven a successful strategy for helping to keep young people engaged in their education.

There are many different career academy models, but common elements include:

  • Small learning community: Students move from class to class in a cohort for at least part of the day and from year to year. The small learning community helps students feel more connected to school and be better supported by a team of adults.
  • Career theme: All academy teachers use the career theme as the lens through which to view their academic content. Students are better able to understand why academic content is relevant to them and applicable to their options in the future.
  • Industry partnerships: It’s essential for a career academy to have relationships with local employers in their career theme to help keep students focused on life after high school.


Learning in the Real World
Many career academies have some form of workplace learning experience built into their program. Connect with local businesses and professionals in fields and careers that interest your youth and in those that young people may not even know exist, such as project management.

While internships are what tend to spring to mind when first considering work-based learning, there are other, less intensive options available to educators who want to expose their youth to the world of work beyond entry level. Consider finding industry professionals to:


  • Mentor or e-mentor students
  • Be a class guest speaker
  • Serve on a student project evaluation panel
  • Provide job-shadowing opportunities
  • Provide internship experiences

Gold Standards for High School InternshipsThe National Academy Foundation (NAF) has been helping schools across the country develop effective academy programs for over 20 years. NAF has established a compensated summer internship between the junior and senior years, which is a key feature of their model. Developed by a task force comprised of educators, industry representatives, and thought leaders, the recently released report “Preparing Youth for Life: the Gold Standards for High School Internships” seeks to codify ten key standards that describe the differences between a job and an internship and explore what policies need to exist to make such programs possible. This report can serve as a springboard for conversations with your team at school, industry partners, and school district personnel.

What is your experience with high school internships and work-based learning engagements? Tell us in the comments section!

Additional Reading on Career Academies and High School Student Internships