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Better Prepared for Adulthood: A Study of Implementing a Public High School Pilot Internship Program through Action Research


The purpose of this study was to address the problem of high school students graduating unprepared for the rigors of college and a career. This study centered on the relationships and processes needed to implement a public high school pilot internship program to offer interested students a work-based learning opportunity. A key element of the study included student perceptions to inform best practices in order to grow the pilot program in scale for the 2015 school year. As colleges, employers, and students themselves complain about readiness post-high school, and literature concerning work-based learning opportunities continues to grow, it seemed the perfect time to conduct this study. La Playa High School identified a gap in this area of education and school leadership agreed that this program would provide a great opportunity for interested students.

The aims of the study were self-directed learning, skills development, and adult mentorship. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills model was used to identify skills within the program as it aligned with current school language as well as with leading educational scholars who study 21st century education approaches. The evidence supported a positive growth in skills from the students, better self-advocacy, and lessons about getting to deeper learning

Students helped identify a different understanding of self-directed learning, one that included preparatory education and support which afforded a more effective experience at the internship site. Although most of the students performed well in school and had strong family networks, very few were truly ready to engage with adults in a real, accountable environment. A disconnect was discovered between conceptual knowledge and practical application. At-risk students were targeted, but few enrolled. The demographics of the class reinforced the dynamics of the school.

Findings indicated definitions with relevant research, prepared guest speakers using the same language with personal experiences, small and large group discussions, modeling exercises and reflective, and directed journal prompts offered a strong combination to get at deeper learning opportunities for program students. Lastly, the evidence reinforced the role and expectations of site mentors who overwhelmingly wanted to be connected to the school’s aims yet felt not enough information was passed to them. Aligning mentors early with program goals can more quickly assist in student self-advocacy.

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