Kate Lynch became the Career Counselor at Milford High School in August and, since taking over the position, has worked to revamp the Work-Based Learning Program at MHS. The program is designed to take students out of the classroom and place them in opportunities where they learn real-world lessons about the careers they are considering.
“Our goal is to work with community members to find a good fit for students to match their interests and their career goals as they graduate,” Lynch said. “The process of career based learning is really not just a senior year of high school thing. It starts in the elementary school with kind of career exploration and introducing students to what is out there. We develop it through middle school doing some strength and weakness exploration and looking at what kind of careers would be goo fits for people’s interest. By the time they get to high school, they’re actually kind of choosing a path through a pathway and then honing their skills so that when they get out of high school or become seniors, we can put them into a job where they’ve already got the background knowledge but maybe need to develop the professional skills associated with it.”
Lynch explained that in order for a student to graduate from a high school in Delaware, they must follow a specific pathway which are concentrations of classes geared toward specific job skills. The pathways are general at the start of high school and then hone into specific areas, so students gain knowledge of the career they hope to enter. Currently, Milford offers 11 Career and Technical Education pathways that range from Allied Health to Education as well as digital communication and more. In addition, the school offers Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTE) that provide extra-curricular activities to add to a student’s knowledge base.
“As I’m having more and more conversations with students about what they’ve spent the last three years learning, increasing the likelihood that they could gain employment after high school is motivating to them,” Lynch said. “They’re finding that okay, now I’ve done all this. What do I do with it? And being able to get an opportunity to experience what they think they want to do is motivating them to carry on and go on to post-secondary planning, to start making some career goals and that sort of thing for you guys. It’s allowing you guys to kind of develop the type of employee that you want, so if you have a student who comes to work with you at the beginning of their 12th grade year, and you know that they’re then going to go on to do an associate’s degree at Del Tech, you have an opportunity to sort of mold that student into the employee you want as you move forward. And then if we can build those connections early on, then you have the type of person that you want to hire back full time to stay with you.”
The program can also improve a company’s recruitment and retention rates as they are able to keep people on staff from entry level into management.
“This program allows students to work during the school day or outside of the school day. So, the nature of our schedule at Milford High School allows most of our seniors if they’ve done what they need to do all the way along, a lot of flexibility in when they have to do their academics and what extra time they have,” Lynch said. “So, our goal now is to create an opportunity for students to come to the high school for a couple of periods, and then get out of school and go do something meaningful with their time.”
The Work-Based Learning program at Milford is not new, Lynch explained. The district has always worked with employers to try to place students in career-related jobs, but, like all other things, COVID had a huge impact on the program. Lynch stated that since students were not in the building, there was no way for them to place in them in jobs. Although this did have a negative impact on the program, it allowed the district to re-evaluate how it worked and make a few changes that would make it more appealing to both students and employers.
“We have now got permission to offer that at the program to our students as a weighted credit. What that means is that students who are going out, going above and beyond the bare minimum and getting these internships and going out to the community and doing a wonderful job working are actually getting the same credit that they would if they were taking an honors level or AP or dual enrollment courses,” Lynch said. “This increases our ability to work kids into the program. Because they’re now getting compensated, maybe not monetarily but in their transcript, and it’s helping them in their college application process.”
Right now, Lynch stated, she has far more employers looking for interns than she has students. The enrollment in the program is at 37 students and she has a waiting list of over 100 employers. The district has students working at UNITED Church, in several day centers and even students working on hospital floors as nurses’ aides at Bayhealth Sussex Campus. Lynch explained that the district can get somewhat creative in matching what the employer needs with the pathway a student is following.
“A student in a marketing pathway may be a good fit for DMI or a student who is in a business pathway might fit well with the museum,” Lynch said. “We just have to be sure that something they are doing fits with the curriculum of their pathway. We have students who want to be social media managers, so they could help with an organization’s social media accounts. We are hoping next year to place some of our plant science students with DNREC working on invasive species removal. We have a student working with Delaware Electric Co-Op in their cybersecurity program. We have students who are working in accounting offices.”
Some of the myths that Lynch wants to dispel include the fact that some employers believe they cannot work with anyone younger than 18. She stated that labor laws allow students to participate in the program at 16 and that programs like this one are especially designed for high school students. She can work with any employer to be sure high school students are legally able to work in particular settings. Employers who are concerned about hiring minors or whose company have policies against hiring minors can reach out to Lynch via email at [email protected] or call her at 302-424-7013.
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