Pathfinder connects students to internships, apprenticeships

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Susan Scott wants to sign up more middle and high school students for the new Pathfinders internship and apprenticeship program for the 2020-21 school year—even if they are stuck at home through the end of this school year.

“It’s tricky to recruit students for these opportunities when you can’t be face-to-face with them,” said Scott, business community coordinator for Thompson School District. “It’s tricky to do it virtually, but it’s still proceeding.”

So far, four students have signed up for internships and 10 students for apprenticeships through the Pathfinder Work-Based Learning Program. The district launched the program in fall 2019 to provide students with work experiences and to help them build their career and college readiness skills.

The program provides work-based learning for students in grades preschool to 12th grade through tours, career fairs and guest speakers. And it involves internships and apprenticeships for students in grades eighth to 12th grade that are graded as pass-fail.

“This year, we’re working on building applicants for that program and getting better opportunities for internships,” said Scott, who coordinates work-based learning activities and cultivates business and community partnerships for the program.

The internships, which can be paid or unpaid, are offered in the summer months or over a semester-long class. This summer, the internships are 250 hours and are in manufacturing and health care, and during the school year, they are 195 hours.

The internships focus on career exploration and help build skills and knowledge related to a particular career, along with skills that all employers seek, such as teamwork, communication and integrity.

The apprenticeships are primarily offered through CareerWise Colorado, a Denver-based youth apprenticeship program that connects students with employment in several industries, including education, health care, business operations, financial services, hospitality, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Poudre, Estes Park, St. Vrain Valley and other school districts in Northern Colorado are part of the program.

During the 2019-20 school year, 10 students from Thompson School District signed up for the apprenticeships (though zero signed up for internships). The deadline for students to sign up for the apprenticeships during the 2020-21 school year is April 17 but may be extended to encourage more students to participate, Scott said.

The apprenticeships are for three years and typically start in the student’s junior year and continue post-high school for one year. The students earn 1.5 elective credits per semester, $30,000 to $40,000 during the three years of the program, one semester of college credit and nationally-recognized industry credentials.

Students taking an apprenticeship split their school day between working at the jobsite and attending classes at their school. Their employers are provided with training plans from CareerWise that can be implemented with any regular training program. The students are trained on the job and work an average of 12 to 16 hours the first year, 20 to 24 hours the second year and more the final year, and they can opt to work during the summer months.

This year, the students are working at hotels, banks and construction and manufacturing companies, providing services like hospitality, customer service, information technology and bookkeeping. Following the stay-at-home order, some of the students, however, had their apprenticeships put on hold or had their hours reduced, Scott said.

“They are building amazing work skills that other students won’t have, things they can put on their college applications and resumes that can set them above,” Scott said.

Scott can secure students spots in internships, but with the apprenticeships, the students go through the regular application and interviewing processes that all employees do, she said. Right now, students are interviewing virtually for positions next year, she said.

“It’s been a little slow to start this year,” Scott said. “We’re looking at different ways to market it and grow it next year.”

Each high school in the district, excluding Ferguson, has a work-based learning coordinator that supports students in their internships and apprenticeships. The coordinators introduce them to the various opportunities, help them with resume, cover letter and interviewing skills, and support them while they participate in the internships and apprenticeships. The coordinator at Berthoud High School is Robert Sommerfeld.

The school district has other internship and apprenticeship programs but on a smaller scale. For instance, the high schools, except for Ferguson, have an ongoing internship program for their information technology departments. Student tech interns provide tech support on district-owned devices during their open class periods.

Columbine Health Systems also has a two-year apprenticeship program where students can earn patient care provider and Certified Nursing Assistant certifications.

“There are so many options and exit points for students where they can go right into a career without needing a college degree or needing a certificate. It’s really about providing options for students,” Scott said. “They’re exploring something in our community they may want to be part of someday rather than leaving our community and wanting to be part of something else.”

For more information about Pathfinders, visit thompsonschools.org/WBL.

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