A team from the Pathways Resource Center recently visited Joliet Township High School District 204 to learn more about their job shadowing work-based learning program. As a part of an English 2 course requirement, we learned that each sophomore student engages in a job shadowing experience based on career interests. These career interests are supported by the district’s organization of their two high schools into five career academy clusters: Arts and Communications; Business Management and Information Systems; Health and Science; Human Services; and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Sophomores spend time in class learning requirements and foundational skills for the workplace and are expected to spend four consecutive hours in the field observing and inquiring. After their job shadowing experience, students have an opportunity to reflect on their experiences.
Our visit with Joliet schools provided us with a great example of the value of early student exposure to work contexts. The following two themes of the job shadowing program were prominent throughout our time in Joliet:
Collective Cohesiveness. During the visit, we had the opportunity to speak with teachers and business/industry partners. It was clear that all stakeholders understood, were able to articulate, and were committed to the vision. The business/industry representative demonstrated a high level of flexibility regarding the number of students they accepted and types of shadowing experiences offered. They look for various job opportunities within the confines of their businesses to ensure that the schools and students receive the maximum benefit from the experience. Teachers collaborate regularly and all share a role in ensuring students understand the purpose and the importance of the job shadowing experience. They also assist students in the selection of their career choices.
Leadership Matters. The success of any program within the school does not come without support from the leadership. In meeting with the Joliet Township High School District superintendent, she relayed her support, as well as the support of the Board of Education, of the job shadowing program. The superintendent also indicated her commitment to provide resources that would ensure the continuation of the job shadowing program and to continually examine future refinements to the program. Also, the program coordinator has done a remarkable job in facilitating the program, securing partnerships, and ensuring that all sophomore students, regardless of travel ability, have a rich experience in the job shadowing program.
Following this visit I collaborated with Carol Collins to write a Pathways Resource Spotlight brief describing the Job Shadowing Programs in Joliet Township High School District 204. The program affords students the opportunity to gain real life work experience by partnering with businesses in the students’ career interest. It is clear that students in the Joliet Township High School District have been afforded a remarkable opportunity to explore their areas of career interest. Clearly, this could not happen without the shared commitment of the district and the Joliet business community.
As researchers, this visit prompted us to consider possible aspects of work-based learning to explore in the future. One of those involves examining issues of equity within the program and as a result of students’ participation in the program. For instance, what impact does a program such as this have on generating equitable outcomes for all students in the labor force? Another area for future research involves exploring student perspectives and garnering insights on what aspects of the program matter most to them.
Asia Fuller Hamilton is a graduate research assistant for the Pathways Resource Center (PRC). Ms. Fuller Hamilton is currently a PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership in the division of Educational Administration and Leadership. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.