Q&A: Using an LMS to Connect Classrooms with Community
We spoke with Donna Lauver (Community Partnership Specialist) and Adam Samuels (Technology Teaching and Learning Support Specialist) at Forest Hills School District about how they created an Experienceship course to help students with internships.
Tell us about your district, Forest Hills School District, and the role you play in it.
Donna Lauver & Adam Samuels: Our district consists of 9 community based schools with an enrollment of approximately 7,800 students. We are located 15 miles east of downtown Cincinnati. Our district has used Schoology for over 9 years. Donna Lauver has taught grades 7-12 social studies and most recently transitioned into the role of Community Partner Specialist. The role was created to further connect our classrooms with our community. Her strengths include a solid background in the classroom and a strong understanding of technology within student engagement. Adam Samuels was a former classroom teacher and media specialist, and now works as a Technology Teaching and Learning Support Specialist, supporting teachers and students in all grades K-12 across the district. He specializes in instructional design, technology integration, and co-teaching.
You created something very unique, an Experienceship Course in Schoology to help students learn more about internship opportunities. Could you explain what exactly this course is and how you came up with the idea?
DL & AS: As a district, we have always explored different ways to connect our students with the community. As all educators do, we wanted to find ways to make learning experiences more applicable and connected to careers, and society as a whole. The challenge schools often face when creating internship opportunities for students are the maintenance and sustainability of a program over time.
Throughout our exploration to identify the best methods for connecting our students to future careers, we determined a Schoology course would allow all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, counselors, community businesses, etc.) to interact within one space. The layout of this course includes a folder for each business or career, a job description, associated social media, and Google Forms applications. This allowed students to have a personalized experience where they could explore different jobs, submit all necessary forms (which we posted as assignments in Schoology), and directly apply to the business or program of their choice.
Our Forest Hills Experienceship Program represents our highest level of immersion into career opportunities. Our district currently has three levels of participation which we define as Explore, Engage and Experienceship. There is a large push in the state of Ohio to create more career focused opportunities for high school students that connect directly to the job market and economic development of the state. The pressing issue at hand was to establish a way to make connections in a more sustainable process addressing both internal and external customers of the Forest Hills School District Community. By housing the Experienceship portion into Schoology, the work of communication, sharing and delivering was completely connected to an environment students were familiar with, Schoology.
What are some of the main benefits you have seen since launching this course?
DL & AS: The main benefits we have observed since launching this course were in the areas of engagement, communication, and safety. From an engagement standpoint, students were already familiar with Schoology so we were able to connect both of our large high schools together into one course (over 1200 students), and students could directly manage their prospective opportunities.
In the realm of communication, Schoology allowed us to solve the challenges that often come with communicating and organizing within a large capacity. Going paperless, making direct connections, developing a visual heavy, interactive format for students, teachers, administrators, parents and employers has proved to be an effective ecosystem for communication.
One of the largest concerns of connecting students with outside organizations are the rules and guidelines around protecting personal information. By using assignments Schoology to house our consent forms, the district has been able to maintain safety protocols and establish consent between the community partners and families. This format allowed the district to address all legal and safety matters, as well as protecting outside businesses working with minors.
How does this relate to student centered learning and individualized learning?
DL & AS: The Experienceship program is completely student centered, completely individualized learning and illustrative of the partnerships for community members that meets their organizational goals. Students are not required to participate but are encouraged to learn more about the unique opportunities that reach further into their personal goals and ideas. By using the schoology platform students are able to investigate and learn about each organization and how their interests could be explored. Currently we have over 200 opportunities to select from and explore. Companies are also centered around providing growth options for students to learn and explore by providing unique options that meet their schedules, training times and needs of the organization. Students are focused on learning and exploring their interests and organizations are focused on providing the options that meet their needs. The student and the company in the end, select each other. We as the educator provider promote the external relationship to meet the needs of personalized learning by communicating the options.
What are your goals for the future of this program, where do you see it going and expanding to?
DL & AS: Our Experienceship program was initially introduced to high school seniors in the 2018-2019 school year. This year, we have opened the program to juniors as well, and will provide access to sophomores to explore different experienceship opportunities ahead of time before they enter their junior year.
Ultimately, our goal was to create a familiar space for our students to go to in order to learn about available career exploration opportunities. We also wanted to make sure students could interact with all stakeholders in a way that was efficient, familiar, safe, and informative. provide expanded access to other grades which we are in the process of achieving, and one of our primary goals of our Schoology course design was for students to truly be in the driver’s seat to feel what it is like to apply for a job or internship.
Why did you choose to house this program in an LMS like Schoology?
DL & AS: Schoology is the hub of learning for the 7800 students and 520 teachers in FHSD. We selected a centralized source and a familiar location for students and staff to utilize. By selecting a familiar homebase and increasing the capabilities that it provided daily to our school community we easily transitioned a customized product to meet the needs of our partnership with students and private organizations.
For both of you personally, how has being a part of the creation and implementation of this large project affected you? What are you most proud of?
DL & AS: Being part of the creation and implementation phases of this project, for us, was a challenging and rewarding experience. As a collaborative team, we knew we wanted to provide more career exploration opportunities for students, but also were well aware of the pain points expressed by other districts. We knew we were developing something that was very logistically involved, and had the potential to incorporate a large number of students. It was most rewarding for us to see the way students lives have changed, as they were able to confirm or just as importantly, reject, potential careers based on their experiences. They’ve developed connections that have potential to be life-long, and have equipped themselves with a strong skill set for wherever their career pathway takes them. We are extremely proud that we were able to create a program that is less facilitated by adults, and more driven by students. Students are able to truly experience every step of the actual application process. So often in society, the realities and feel of each career are somewhat clouded until you dive into the pathway, which often occurs at the college or vocational level. For us, we feel this program has provided students with a low-risk, safety net, to explore potential careers with no dollars invested.
Would you recommend a similar type of program to other districts? If so, what are the first steps in undertaking something like this?
DL & AS: Creating opportunities for students to explore career opportunities in a safe and enriching way is an absolute recommendation. Promoting student exploration prior to graduation is giving future career readiness a platform. Our Experienceship system is connecting students to real world opportunities, supplying future ready workforce pioneers for tomorrow's career and economic development at a local level.
The first step to a successful program is researching and understanding the main focus of the program. Ours was student growth and understanding of real world careers and the skills required to be successful for future employment. Second was to determine the need of the community workforce. By staying focused on student growth and personalized learning, we have been able to educate and communicate our intentions with the community. We are staying student centered within the realm of learning. We are not just supplying students to work, we are creating choices and opportunities to learn, experience and decide the needs of our students future career decisions.
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