Learning Beyond the Schoolhouse Doors

A high school graduate named Jimmy shared with me all the barriers he encountered while participating in community service.

He relied on pen and paper to track his service hours. His school often played phone tag with the service agency to verify he had volunteered. And when he applied to colleges and for scholarships, there was no easy way to gather data that showed the time he spent in his community.

You and I know students are more than just a number or a score they earn on a standardized test. They build career and college ready skills from all kinds of experiences.

Our nation’s public schools strive to provide students with rigorous academic programs, personalized and career-specific learning experiences, along with social and emotional skills that prepare our young people to be global citizens in an ever-changing world.

Community service is one example of the experiences our schools provide. Volunteering is powerful. Not only do students develop empathy, self-confidence and a sense of purpose when they participate in service, research shows that students who participate in community service programs are 22% more likely to graduate college and 25% of students return to their communities after having engaged in service.

And workplace learning experiences — from internships to apprenticeships to micro-internships — are incredibly beneficial for our students. These experiences provide employers with a pipeline of talent and potential employees while giving our students soft skills — from teamwork to critical thinking and communication — needed to thrive in the workplace and the chance to discover if they truly have a passion for the career.

For all of these reasons, I am passionate about incorporating both community service and workplace learning into college and career readiness criteria. Simply put, these experiences can yield powerful results for our students.

But how can schools benefit from adding these experiences into the school day?

Here are three things for school leaders to think about when deciding if they should add workplace learning or service opportunities into their school district’s curriculum or programming.

1. Students can explore careers and discover their passions

When you embed workplace learning and community service into the K12 educational setting, you see students explore different career paths, develop meaningful connections and unlock their potential. Exploring their opportunities and discovering their passions before they graduate high school are incredibly important. This will help students leave our schoolhouse doors with purpose and momentum – and potentially save them and their families time and money.

2. It’s great for building partnerships

Building these opportunities for students helps to show our value to local businesses, area nonprofits and other industry partners. When we provide experiences for our students to give back or help build a pipeline of talent for industries that are in our backyard, we are establishing a two-way relationship with those in our communities. Internships and apprenticeships can lead to businesses helping to develop the next generation of workers and closing skills gaps in various industries. Volunteering is another way our students can connect with their communities and helps them become good community citizens.

3. Having data helps you gather insights

What key insights do you currently have about the kinds of community service or workplace learning opportunities that your students value? When you build an effective program that captures both these experiences, you will have hard data that show what matters to your students and staff. This will allow you to capture the value of these experiences, maximize these meaningful opportunities going forward and celebrate your school’s collective impact.

We are educating a generation of innovators – students who are driven by ideas and inspired by innovations. Students leave our schoolhouse doors with the academic skills that make them college and career ready, but also with grit, perseverance and resiliency to tackle and achieve their goals. They have the growth mindset that empowers them to approach their future with confidence, to dream big and make those dreams a reality.

Our students learn in a variety of ways. They should be able to demonstrate readiness in a variety of ways.

We must look beyond a standardized test score and use multiple measures — including community service and workplace learning — to assess and demonstrate that students are ready for life beyond high school.