As schools across the nation began shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administrative team here at Atlantis Charter School in Massachusetts immediately began readying our remote learning plan. While all schools faced challenges, we faced the additional challenge of finding innovative ways for 12th-graders to complete their spring internships from home.
The Atlantis high school program is built around five school-to-career academies (STEM; Business and Entrepreneurship; Teaching and Social Services; Health, Med-Tech and Sports Medicine; and Arts, Culture and Design), which were developed in partnership with industry and higher education to prepare an educated 21st-century workforce and drive economic development.
The internship program is the culmination of students’ Career Academy experience and consists of some combination of job shadowing, mentorships and hands-on project-based learning activities.
My team and I worked to create meaningful ways for our students to complete their internships. This meant looking at what we wanted to accomplish with the internships and how best to achieve that. Our priorities included maintaining connections between the students and their professional mentors, continuing to give students real-life career experience, and helping them to make real-life connections. Here are four steps we took to reach those goals.
1. Providing online simulators, job shadowing
Continuing a virtual relationship between students in the Health, Med-Tech and Sports Medicine Academy and their professional mentors was not possible due to the current demands on health care workers. As an alternative, we set up students with an online patient simulator program that allows them to assess virtual patients and even answer patients’ questions online to reach a diagnosis. The program aligns well with the curriculum and allows students to develop critical thinking skills that aid in diagnosis, while staying safe and in compliance with patient privacy laws.
Our priorities included maintaining connections between the students and their professional mentors, continuing to give students real-life career experience, and helping them to make real-life connections.
In addition, we have reached out to our coalition partners, such as Dr. Mininder Kocher at Boston Children’s Hospital, to find virtual job shadowing opportunities for our students.
2. Offering virtual teaching opportunities
With physical classrooms closed, students in the Teaching and Social Services Academy are continuing their teaching internships online. Student teachers are joining their cooperating teachers in the virtual classroom to observe lessons.
We are also asking students to research and create their own online lesson plans—taking lessons they would do in-person and adapting them to meet the requirements of our new remote learning environment. It’s what we asked our faculty to do on a moment’s notice, so we thought it would give students a real-life connection and provide a glimpse of what the future of education may look like even after the pandemic ends.
3. Moving mentorship online
Students in our other three academies were working on group projects for their internships, and they are continuing their work remotely. Mentors from the UMass Dartmouth Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship are available to provide guidance from afar to students in our STEM and Business and Entrepreneurship academies when needed. In addition, a filmmaker and a spoken word artist who have been working with students in the Arts, Culture and Design Academy are using videoconferencing to stay connected with students.
4. Expanding technology use
During the coronavirus crisis, our focus, first and foremost, has been on continuing students’ education so they graduate with the skills and experiences needed to succeed in college and in their career. COVID-19 will change the way we approach internships in some of our academies in the future.
I am a big supporter of face-to-face communications, but I believe that advancements in technology will open new doors for high school students. We may be able to introduce virtual reality programs in some of our other academies to give students a wider variety of experiences as well.
The Atlantis internship program took months of planning and careful coordination, but, as is often the case in life, plans can change at a moment’s notice, and it is our responsibility as educators to adapt.
We are fortunate to live in a technological age that allows us to stay connected virtually. We can make use of that technology to continue to give students experiences that will help them to develop the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.
Pat Hawkridge is director of the Career Academy program at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Massachusetts.
DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.