By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
What good is an academic education without a practical one to accompany it?
Itawamba Agricultural High School Career Pathways Experience teacher Lori McGee Holland believes the answer to that question is: None at all.
“I get students who have never written a resume before,” she said. “How can you go through school and graduate, never having written a personal resume?”
Formerly known as the “co-op” program, CPE essentially allows students to trade employment hours for school credits. But don’t think the program provides an easy way for kids to skip school; quite the opposite, in fact. In addition to maintaining their jobs, students in the program have to attend a regular class session and log community service hours.
“Everyone needs to erase their perceptions of ‘co-op’ – this is not the same program as it was 30 years ago,” Holland said. “We have a totally revamped curriculum, procedure and evaluation.”
According to Holland – who was recently named teacher of the year by the Mississippi Association of Cooperative Vocational Educators and Teachers – the revamped program consists of a daily lecture, discussion, research, power point/note-taking, large-scale projects and hours of community service. Textbooks are utilized as well as many other resources from outside the classroom. Guest speakers are also very common.
The curriculum is based around the practicalities of the work world – educating students in areas such as entrepreneurship, independent living, budgeting and management principals. Consider them lessons in the “real world.”
“I’m a realist with them,” Holland said of her students. “I tell them up front how difficult it is to be out on your own.”
While the program used to be restricted to senior students who had completed some form of vocational course, that’s no longer the case. Due to economic troubles nationwide, guidelines for programs like CPE have been loosened somewhat, opening them to any junior or senior student who is 16 years of age and has reliable transportation.
Holland stressed the importance of CPE as an educational experience. There are required evaluations from employers to ensure students are advancing along a training path – records of a student’s attitude, work ethic and overall performance. Students must maintain these standards.
While many students work regularly after school, others may only work one or two days a week. Participants are given school credits based on the number of paid hours they work during the year – a maximum of 540 hours for two credits. Students who work less than that can supplement with internship and apprenticeships.
According to Holland, the end goal is always the transformation of her students into responsible adults. It’s a lesson that pays far more than minimum wage.
“I have students that call me years after graduation to thank me for what we went over in class,” she said. “To me, that is most rewarding part of being a teacher.”