Preparing the future workforce of Western Massachusetts
Engaging in hands-on learning. Building real-world understanding. Supporting workplace-ready skills.
These are often cited as critical components of preparing students for success in their future careers. And while many educators integrate these approaches every day in their schools and classrooms, there’s no substitute for the real thing: giving students the opportunity to learn while on the job. Our recent forum on the Condition of Education in Western Massachusetts highlighted the incredible work taking place across the region to get students out of the classroom and into the workplace.
During the event, we heard from Lane Hall-Witt, a junior at Northampton High School engaged in an Information Technology pathway that has him taking apart computers and troubleshooting network issues within the school. Lane also participates in an internship at Yes Computers, where he’s recently been offered a part-time job to continue deepening his knowledge about computers’ inner workings. And through classes at Greenfield Community College, Lane gets a taste of college life to complement his career training.
Panelist Sean Flynn spoke about similar opportunities available at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Sean serves as the Director of CVTE (Career and Vocational Technical Education) & Internship Programs at Monument Mountain, a new role as of last summer that aims to build stronger connections between students, community members, institutions of higher education, and local employers. After hearing from him at the event, we spoke with him to learn more about how he and the school develop effective partnerships with employers.
While Monument Mountain has been offering internship opportunities for more than 20 years, the school’s recent designation as a state Innovation Pathways Program offers the chance to build a more systemic approach to building career readiness throughout a student’s high school experience. Designated Innovation Pathways Programs offer students the chance to learn about high-demand industries through career awareness, exploration, and immersion activities. The program also requires participation in advanced coursework, offering both academic and experiential training that prepares students to succeed in college and beyond. Monument Mountain is one of 61 designated pathways across the state (see the Discover the Facts section for more on the current Innovation Pathways Program designees).
With the Innovation Pathways designation, “rather than waiting until senior year to provide an internship, we’re providing a step-by-step process and beginning to build students’ capacity to take advantage of it,” Sean noted. Starting in grade 9, the school invites in speakers to discuss different career opportunities. In grade 10, they work on developing a resume and an individualized plan that ties together their career and academic goals. This work culminates in a job shadowing experience where they get a more in-depth look at a particular pathway. By senior year, students have the chance to spend part of the school day off-site at an internship. Approximately half of the senior class is participating in an internship experience this year.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Monument Mountain’s internship program is the community buy-in and support: according to Sean, “We have access to an incredible talent pool of people in our area who are willing community partners and see value in supporting this program.” Student placements include opportunities to work at local hotels and restaurants, interior design companies, automotive services, fire and police departments, elementary and middle schools, and more. Sean described one student in the school’s agriculture program who works on turf management at a local golf course, where he begins his day by arriving on site at 6:00 in the morning. Sean also lauded the school’s longstanding partnership with Fairview Hospital, where students rotate through roles in various departments; one young woman recently had the chance to be present at the birth of a child, an experience she described with excitement to her anatomy class at Monument Mountain.
How has the school been able to build such strong partnerships? Sean points to the importance of building momentum by finding an “early adopter, someone who’s willing to take a shot and get something rolling.” Once a few employers have signed on to host students, it creates a snowball effect in the community. Sean also notes that schools can sometimes be seen as insulated, siloed off places. Instead, he says, “we want to create conditions in our own work environment that mirror what we want for our students,” including collaboration, communication, and a shared sense of responsibility. Students at Monument Mountain—and across Western Massachusetts—benefit each day from partnerships between schools and employers that promote the development of these and other critical skills, helping prepare them for success in college, careers, and life.