AYER – When students and parents think of vocational training, the first inclination might be to look at a vocational or trade school, but many comprehensive high schools are adapting their models to include this real-world training and Ayer Shirley Regional High School is no different.
A group of dedicated Ayer Shirley Regional High School seniors have been taking advantage of an internship/externship opportunity offered within the curriculum, and one of the big landing spots is future teacher preparation in a partnership with neighboring Page Hilltop Elementary.
“Schoolwork for students has existed very much for the last 150 years on really a set rote curriculum,” Ayer Shirley Regional High School Principal Spencer Christie said. “It’s more one size fits all. I think where we’re becoming more proficient is in finding individualized passions for students and catering to them. So, this fits with our vision of how we fully help shape students for an ever changing ever evolving world.”
Between 15-20 students take an internship period during the day and most are using the experience to work with elementary students, learn the craft of education, lesson planning, and problem solving. It’s a pathway to work in education of all fields, as well as daycare, and other professional communicative and educational fields.
Many students are becoming big brothers and big sisters to students in the school, which benefits the student atmosphere and collaboration amongst the two schools, Christie says.
“I think for our students, getting to interact in a real work environment it’s actually testing out a future career opportunity,” Christie said. “And it’s been a huge win for our students, they absolutely love it.”
Partnerships with other public departments in Ayer have given students the opportunity to gain firsthand insight into a career they’re wanting to pursue and a future educational pathway to achieve their goals.
“It’s not just Page Hilltop, but Ayer Parks and Rec,” Christie said. “The Ayer Public Library has been absolutely incredible trying to partner with us. I think we’re going to have a partnership with the Ayer Fire Department and Police Department at the end of the year. Local departments can provide that on the job training that students severely lack.”
Christie says that building experience in a job setting can build transferable skills that students can take with them and apply to several careers moving forward. Skills learned by the students include collaboration and time management, he says.
With college costing thousands of dollars, the internship opportunity allows students to get a deeper understanding of the field they want to pursue, and helps to ensure that it’s their intended path in life.
“If you think you want to do early childhood education, you go in, test it out, and love it, that’s wonderful,” Christie said. “You know you’re on a track that you’ve already had some experience in. If you think you want to go into any of these professions, and it’s not what you expected, we’ve probably saved you several months of work experience and potentially a whole lot of money, in you pursuing something that may not be a good fit for you. Either way, if it’s a fit or not, it’s that experience on the job that’s invaluable.”
For internships which students can’t actively partake in, due to safety or regulations, students can gain insight from professionals through mentorship, learning the ins and outs of the position, what is needed to secure a career in the field, Christie says.
The internship program typically lasts a semester; however, Christie says that many students are seeking to extend it. Students have an academic component to the program as they keep journals of their experience, presenting experiences to peers, and other academic work. The course is pass/fail for students.
“The win for us is students who might not have known this is something that they would gravitate towards, are now finding a passion for that area,” Christie said. “We have a number of students saying that they want more.”
Christie says the school is open to placing students in local careers that the students desire and is open to considering local businesses that can provide that career learning opportunity.
Students have other individualized educational opportunities through three web-based academic platforms, providing highly specialized elective coursework. The second half of the year is expected to see an in-house tech-based internship program being unveiled, where students will be able to work in digital signage, software, and hardware.