American philosopher John Dewey once said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Dewey, a strong proponent of progressive educational reform, believed that education should be based on the principle of learning through doing.
While Dewey’s hands-on approach has always been the foundation of career and technical education, his educational concept continues to evolve in many previously unforeseen ways.
In 2013, the Onondaga Cortland Madison Board of Cooperative Educational Services (OCM BOCES) brought hands-on learning to the next level by embedding some of its state-endorsed career and technical education (CTE) programs at local businesses.
“BOCES has a long history of working with local employers” says Colleen Viggiano, our assistant superintendent for student services who played a key role in coordinating the program. “Because of the strong relationships formed over the years, we worked with businesses to start the embedded model.”
Our CTE classrooms are housed at appropriate Syracuse-area businesses, such as the classes we have embedded at two physical therapy facilities.
We also offer automotive technology classes at a local car dealership, media marketing communications classes at WCNY public television and radio station, and early childhood education classrooms at a community center that features Head Start and Early Head Start programs.
We continually explore the potential for mutually beneficial partnerships.
Our CTE advisory committee works closely with local employers to make sure we are teaching skills that align with their needs. That way, the businesses are actually taking part in educating their incoming workforce with the skills that will help them succeed.
With our embedded programs providing the trademark, hands-on CTE learning, the classroom is no longer the only educational setting. And, experts and professionals in the field become the teachers when programs are housed at businesses.
WCNY president Robert Daino had been an advocate for embedded classrooms long before they became a fixture at the station. “Today, the students are hungrily learning from us” he says. “Tomorrow, they will be leading companies and making ideas realities. WCNY is the incubator for their professional careers and success.”
Edge on college competition
These programs are built on three pillars that stand together to provide students with a solid educational foundation. The first pillar is our traditional 9-12 education, the second is our collaboration with local businesses, and the third is higher education.
Agreements with various higher education institutions have enabled CTE students to earn up to 22 college credits and begin their post-secondary education while still in high school.
These students will start college with their first semester already under their belts. When admissions departments see that on an application, it gives those students an edge over the competition.
The embedded concept allows students to go beyond the limits of the lesson, and their teachers, to benefit from the knowledge and experience of a business’ staff.
WCNY media marketing instructor Kathy Labulis says students often seek out employees throughout the organization to learn more about a specific topic or to get assistance with a project.
As the district superintendent, I’m enthusiastic about the many benefits of embedded programs for students because it’s a unique and collaborative model. Learning is constant—and it isn’t only the students who are learning.
Teachers, business staff and college staff are all discovering new and better ways to introduce real-world experiences to learning. Students are no longer educated just in a classroom, they are educated by a community of experts.