Indiana Schools Pave the Path to Jobs

Through interviews with employers and entry-level employees, the IndianaPLUS pilot program helps noncollege-bound high school students make a smoother transition to the working world

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

'AS a teacher, I know exactly what I have to do to prepare my students for college," says Bill Broderick, who teaches at North Central High School in Indianapolis.But preparing high schoolers for the work force is a different matter. "Business has never told me what I need to do for them," Mr. Broderick says. The United States currently provides the least effective school-to-work transition of any industrialized nation, say labor and education experts. Fifty percent of the nation's high school graduates never attend college and 70 percent of those who start college don't finish. Yet schools often provide little support to these students. A 1988 study identified students who aren't college-bound as "the forgotten half" because their needs are so often neglected. As global competition intensifies and the need for skilled workers grows, the US Department of Labor is stepping in to foster better cooperation between American businesses and schools.

Students lack preparation The Labor Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills - known as the SCANS commission - spent a year interviewing employers and workers to define the skills tomorrow's workers will need and how schools can help students acquire them. In a recently released report, the 31-member commission states that half of all high school graduates are unprepared to enter the work force. [See related article for details.] "Part of the difficulty is that employers and school personnel are passing each other like ships in the night," the report says. "One speaks in Morse code, the other signals with flags. As a consequence of the miscommunication, secondary school students often see little connection between what they do in school and how they expect to make a living." Broderick and a handful of other teachers in Indiana are overseeing a pilot program - dubbed IndianaPLUS - that gives students a rare peek into the world of work. The project is a collaboration between the SCANS commission, the Indiana Department of Education, and Project Literacy US (PLUS), a public service campaign of Capital Cities/ABC. The five ABC-affiliated television stations in Indiana will publicize the program through public-service announcements and news shows. At the end of the semester, ABC will produce a statewide television show featuring the project. About 100 high school seniors will use a modified version of the SCANS survey to interview employers and workers about the skills they need to do their jobs. Twenty students from five high schools will participate as part of a regular economics or sociology course. The schools are in Indiana cities with ABC affiliates: Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne, Evansville, and South Bend- Elkhart. Students planning to go to college were accepted in the program. But "we're going to put the heaviest emphasis on noncollege-bound students," says H. Dean Evans, the state superintendent of public instruction. In 1990, only 38 percent of Indiana's spring high school graduates attended college the next fall, according to the Indiana College Placement and Assessment Center. The IndianaPLUS program hopes to help the other 62 percent learn about the working world. "The college students will still have some time to put together their education and training and their planning," Superintendent Evans says. "The students who are going right out of high school into the labor force will not have the luxury of that much time." "Too many students in society in general feel that if you don't have a college education that you're going to amount to nothing," Broderick says. "We've got to tell them that there are jobs out there - good paying jobs - that they can achieve." At North Central High, where Broderick teaches, the majority of students do attend college. But student interest in the program was strong nonetheless. "We had to turn people away," Broderick says. "The students saw it as a unique opportunity - something different from taking a regular economics class. And the possibility of being on TV was a lure." But some students' interests went further than that. "I like being able to apply what I'm learning in the classroom to something I'm doing outside of the classroom," says Shelli Ross, a senior at North Central and an IndianaPLUS participant. Starting last week, Shelli and her classmates began interviewing working people in a variety of industries. In the other four cities, students won't begin the project until fall. In each city, an advisory committee of community members - representing business, the participating school, and the media - helped the faculty advisors and students arrange interviews and work-site visits. The students will do interviews in pairs - with one person conducting the interview while the other takes notes. Each student will do at least three interviews.

Workers are interviewed "We're going to put a fair amount of the burden on the students to organize their interviews," Broderick says. m going to be providing them with a list of the companies and the person to contact." From there, the students will be required to set up the interview date, call before they show up, and write a thank-you letter. Interviews will focus on entry-level workers - those without a college degree who have been in the work force five years or less. In Indianapolis, Broderick says, the students will also interview supervisors to get an idea of the skills needed to move up a career ladder. With help from the ABC stations, students will produce a videotape of their work. They will also put together a handbook about the working world. The video and handbook will be used in presentations to their peers and in visits to seventh- and eighth-grade classes. "The main objective is to tell them [the middle schoolers] exactly what they'll need in the work force of the '90s," Shelli says. She's looking forward to sharing what she learns with younger students. "I want to tell them why they're interpreting the poems and doing the word problems that don't seem to make any sense." The strength of the IndianaPLUS program, says Evans, is getting older students to "go out into the classrooms and be our ambassadors for describing what is required in the world of work. It's like bringing the athlete in from high school to talk about freshman-level basketball. The kids will be more inclined to listen to an older student." If the IndianaPLUS program proves a success, the organizers hope to expand it nationwide in 1992. Superintendent Evans says: "I believe we can prove to the country that this is an appropriate thing to do. I'd like to see an IowaPLUS and an IllinoisPLUS and a TexasPLUS...."

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