Programs give students real world work experience in high school

Published: Monday, May 26 2014 12:40 a.m. MDT

Mentor Laura Monty assists Max Johansen, a junior from Park City High School, with building a robot designed to inspect improvised explosive devices, during a classroom for Park City School District Center for Advanced Professional Studies Monday, May 19, 2014, in Park City. The robot could be used by local police and fire departments.

Hugh Carey, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Some Utah school districts have developed innovative programs aimed at giving students a glimpse into what their lives could be like in the "real world."

Last fall, the Park City School District launched a new program at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies. The program partners with businesses to prepare high school students for professional environments and careers.

Park City High School senior Jaimie Martin and about 70 other students enrolled in the inaugural classes of the program in the district’s career and technical education department. For Martin, 18, the time spent in the traditional classroom setting and the public school education process in general had been especially challenging.

Born in Maryland, she was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 4 as well as Attention Deficit Disorder. Her educational progress was inconsistent for much of her adolescence.

Tack on the fact that she was home-schooled for a decade while her family sailed around “Europe and the Caribbean mostly,” learning in a traditional educational setting was difficult.

“(After) 9/11, my dad decided to move us onto a boat,” she said. They lived on the boat for about 10 years, traveling to country after country and exploring different cultures — experiences she recalls fondly.

But when they returned to the U.S., the family settled in Utah and for the first time she enrolled in a traditional public school. While being home-schooled, her mom was able to make allowances for her learning disabilities.

Because of dyslexia, Martin said she has always struggled with reading, something that made the everyday classroom environment a daily challenge.

“I was reading books like "The Big Red Dog" at (age) 11 — you know, little kid books,” she explained. In time, her reading proficiency improved sufficiently to achieve grade level competence. The already awkward teenage trials and hardships of trying to fit into a new school, combined with her academic difficulties, had a major impact on Martin’s self-esteem.

But one saving grace was that she developed an aptitude for science and math, which sparked an interest in one day becoming an engineer. And as fate would have it, the Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies came along.

The center's courses are designed to help students choose college majors and careers. Participants work on projects in business, engineering, interactive design, teaching and technology.

“We are trying to give them the opportunity to experience business now in a learning environment, a growing environment,” said program director Jennifer Jackenthal. “They are basically graded on how much growth they’ve had and the effort they have put in.”

Students are graded on collaboration and teamwork, professionalism, communication, creative process and project management, Jackenthal explained. Companies ask student teams to work on “back burner” projects or other non-critical assignments that the firms need to accomplish, but may not have the time or manpower to work on, she said.

“In general, we don’t take on anything 'mission critical' because it has to be a 'win-win' for everybody,” Jackenthal said. The results are great because the company receives something for free, she added, while the students get the chance to work on and complete real-life, real world assignments.

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