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Hidden gems.

Internship and Experimential Learning Programs

When a program is approved for state/federal subsidy in the field of career and technical education, there is always a record on file with information about the program in the state education department. These records are for program approval, funding, status reports, or final reports. In the big picture of programs in the field of education, these subsidized programs represent only a small percentage of all programs in public schools. There is a much larger category of experiential-learning programs that exists within local school programs and curricula, funded as part of the local school budget, and are not documented outside of the local school program. In most cases, state education departments are not fully aware of these programs since they are designed to meet local needs of students and the community.

It is encouraging to see many schools willing to innovate within their curricula to meet specific interests and needs, and not be dependent on outside approval or funding. Teachers and administrators show leadership in program development as they offer unique programs that enhance learning and serve to offer more motivation to students in their related studies.

Here is a sampling of some program types:

* Many programs are for students who qualify based on academic performance, while others are based on career interests.

* In addition, there are programs that have a component to reinforce classroom instruction, of provide the opportunity to students to perform service within the school community or local community.

* There are programs that help students in their social adjustment and maturation process by providing internships that involve working with and helping others.

* Another category of undocumented programs is that of Special Needs, which has many innovative field-based learning activities designed to meet local program needs in helping students adjust and prepare for the future.

Related field experience to reinforce a student's instruction has been recognized as a positive factor in education. Many educators have shown interest in recent years in contextual learning, which could include field-based (experiential) learning. The lack of formal information about what is taking place and how the concept is being implemented has impeded the dissemination of such information.

Numerous educators look for ideas taken from other programs and literature to serve as a catalyst to strengthen programs in their own schools. There is a very strong interest in many schools to make instruction more meaningful to the real world through the use of related experiences for students that involve school credit and supervision. The concept of "learning by doing" from John Dewey is still with us and is being utilized more than ever.

Even when some teacher-education programs do not prepare teachers to incorporate experiential learning into their teaching/learning activities, local school programs do feel the need to provide these kinds of experiences to students. The application of learning as part of a school program is important and beneficial to both the student and the school. Students gain more insights and understanding as they see their information in use, and are able to use it in actual situations. They often become more competent and mature as they gain these experiences. Schools receive recognition for providing experiential learning opportunities to students, as well as the appreciation for the services and efforts that the students provide. This helps the school be a more integral part of the community.

In an effort to identify and share information about existing programs in local schools that utilize internships, field-based learning, experiential learning and non-traditional programs to meet local curricular needs, a study was conducted by this author. The Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Information Systems, Division of Data Services, provided information about school districts, secondary enrollments and school addresses. Once the information was analyzed, a population for the study was identified.

In an unbiased approach, large school districts in selected counties in Pennsylvania were contacted. Two categories of personnel were contacted: high school principals (school administrators) and school district curriculum coordinators. An information sheet was enclosed for the school to complete for each program that utilized some form of internship or field-based learning or experiential learning experience for students, no matter how the school categorized the students. The principal or the curriculum coordinator forwarded the request to the respective teachers who conducted each program, and the teachers responded with information about their programs.

Field-based programs were found that served academic students, college-bound students, career students, special needs students, and senior-year project students. For purposes of the study, programs were identified as those that award school credit for service/work, paid or non-paid, in the community with employers and/or other agencies. Twenty-four schools responded and reported on fifty programs. Both quantitative and qualitative information were collected. The names of programs were often based on local needs, and did not necessarily reflect terminology used by the state education department or by the literature for the field of education. Information was collected about the nature of internships, field-based learning, experiential learning and work experience offerings, the scope of the offerings, procedures used and future plans.

The reported programs used many different names, and they were examined to find common threads to use in classifying them:

* Field-Based Learning;

* Child Growth & Development, Senior Independent Program (SIP), Internship, Foods Practical, Professional Field Experience-Hospital Service;

* Service Learning, FLEX(Future Life Experience), Community Service;

* Special Needs;

* Work & Career Study, Collaborative & Community, Pre-Vocational Training, Work-Study, Work Experience, Job Skills - Special Education Experiential Learning;

* Career Shadowing/Internship, CISCO Networking 1, Field Experience, Gifted Mentorship, Child Development Practical, Groundhog Job Shadow Day, Music Mentors, Educational Internship, Professional Field Experience-Education, Experiential Learning-Career Education Course, Peer Mediation, Student Mentor Work Experience;

* Work Study, Diversified Occupations, Marketing & Cooperative Education, School-To-Work, Career Exploration & Work Study, Cooperative Education, Business Ed Co-op, Work Experience.


A look at some of these programs will provide insight into the nature of these offerings. The concept of Mentoring Programs is very interesting because the following programs seemed to be most unique: Music Mentors, Peer Mediation, Student Mentor, and Gifted Mentorship.

Music Mentors

The Music Mentors Program at Pennsbury High School, Fairless Hills, is a partnership between Advanced Placement Music Theory Students and elementary school music teachers. Students go to their mentor school two days out of every five day elementary rotation.

They observe lessons, participate in classroom experiences, and with supervision are required to teach mini-lessons along specific guidelines. In order to participate in this program, students must complete three music theory prerequisites and have parent permission. The students must maintain satisfactory grades in their music theory work and "be role models to their peers and to the elementary students." The credit that they receive for Music Theory III includes credit for Music Mentors. Students serve for four hours every five-day rotation. The teacher in charge is Suzanne Schmidt, Music Theory Teacher, who also visits students and provides related instruction in the high school class. The program has been well received by parents, teachers, administrators and high school and elementary students.

Peer Mediation

Training students to mediate and resolve student-to-student conflicts and giving them credit for their work for one semester is the theme of Peer Mediation at William Tennent High School in Warminster. Peer Mediators assist the Dean of Students; they follow a course of study to strengthen mediation skills and their understanding of interpersonal dynamics. During the junior year, selected students complete an after-school conflict resolution course and are then certified by the Peer Mediation Club Advisor and approved by the Dean of Students, Maryanne Ormsby, who supervises students in a regularly scheduled class. The students receive supervision when they are Peer Mediators, and they receive school credit.

Eligible Special Education

Eligible Special Education students explore career interests or employment in a hands-on program at North Penn High School in Lansdale. Federal and state transition guidelines are followed. All high school special education students are eligible, and mostly seniors participate.

Parent input at IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings is required, and employers are contacted to place students. Credit for this program is based on the number of periods per day that a student has class. The range can be from half a credit to two credits (1-4 periods). This program has expanded each year as the population has grown. Many students are able to retain jobs after graduation, while others gain insights into careers. The personnel involved in this program include Donna Dawson, Coordinator of Transition Work/Career Study, Helen Wright, Supervisor, and Kathryn Kahler, Assistant. Students are visited on a regular basis, and there are evaluations each marking period. Students receive support at job interviews and receive some job coaching.

Child Growth & Development

Child Growth & Development is the name of the nursery school training program at a suburban high school, Bethel Park Senior High School, Bethel Park. Seniors in the program work in supervised daycare settings for two semesters. Julie Moore, Acting Director of Nursery School, reported that there were ninety-eight students in the program. Students who complete this program may obtain employment or continue their education in college to prepare for teaching.


In reviewing the status and current practices of high school programs that offer internships and all forms of supervised experiential learning, it is apparent that innovation in education is alive and well. But the strong need to share information about the many undocumented programs is not being addressed.

Sometimes, a new trend may focus on some activities that have been ongoing, but then appear under a new format. Many schools have community service programs as electives; some are required for seniors; and some now wear the new label of Service Learning, while there are many others using a title that was developed by the local school. One of the concepts of contemporary education is to provide students with experiences that enable the application of classroom instruction to real situations. Being part of a school program that enables students to observe and participate in experiential learning is highly valued and serves as a foundation in making career decisions - this is what students and parents want.

A complete copy of the author's research paper on this subject is attached to the online version of this article in the Techniques area of the ACTE website,

Dr. Jerome I. Leventhal is a professor at Temple University in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Technology in Education. He can be reached by e-mail at
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Author:Leventhal, Jerome I.
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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