Real-World Opportunities for Students

I spent many years in school just “doing work” but not having a deep understanding of the concepts or how they connected to the real world. For example, I vividly recall learning the process of factoring in Algebra using the acronym FOIL (first, outside, inside, last). While this worked to help me memorize that mathematical process, to this day I have no idea why it worked or why it was important to understand. I am not knocking math; however, we are fortunate that pedagogy has evolved from the “drill and kill” model of my formative education to a model that values a deeper understanding of concepts and connecting academic skills to real-world experiences. This model promotes college and career readiness.

The standards that now guide instruction have not only raised the bar but have also given way to a wider range of opportunities to promote real-world skills and prepare kids for life after high school. For example, the “Marketing: Hospitality & Tourism” program in my district allows students to earn one of several certifications in hospitality and tourism. They earn 30 credits in a one-year program, covering two years’ worth of curriculum. As part of their program requirements, students participate in an internship during which they spend more than one hundred hours at a local community organization. Additionally, students are given the opportunity to compete in a program that engages them in business, marketing, and leadership skills. They compete all over the country and learn how to think on their feet, build self-esteem, and hone critical thinking skills. Learning experiences like this enable students to gain and practice valuable real-life skills such as accountability, ethics, and maintaining a customer service mindset in addition to learning about work-life balance. They are gaining important skills that can be applied in college courses, relationships, and potential job opportunities.

Internships and project-based learning units that emulate the “real world” help kids navigate between school and the real world. It gives them a deeper understanding of how the concepts they learn in the classroom are important and translate directly to circumstances they’ll face in college, career, and throughout adulthood. One student at my district’s technical school said, “I like the fact that my class is practically all hands-on. We learn how something is done, and then we go out and do it. You can also take pride in the work done in this class because you can see the finished product that you yourself have created.” Additionally, one of the marketing instructors said, “Students are able to use the skills they are learning this year towards a continued education at the post-secondary level while maintaining their career within the travel and tourism industry as a result of the flexible hours offered within the industry.”

These opportunities give students the ability to hit the ground running upon graduation. For students who do not want to attend a traditional four year school after graduation, they wonder why they spend class time preparing for the SAT. These innovative avenues give students the skills they need to enter a profession or trade after graduation and provide a career pathway that supports them, especially for those whom a traditional four-year path is not an option or desire. Too often, these students feel as though they do not fit the “norm” of post-education opportunities. These options can help give them meaningful opportunities beyond the traditional pathway.

In the movie Teacher’s Pet, Clark Gable says, “Experience is the jockey, and education is the horse.” Real-world learning experiences indeed give students the experience they need to advance their life’s journey at a deeper and more engaging level.

Jill Cullis teaches Social Studies at Gateway High School in Aurora, Colorado. Jill has been teaching for 32 years and has been involved in everything from leadership roles in her school and district, to writing curriculum, to coaching many different sports.