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Creating School to Work Initiatives
for Deaf Students
Glenn B. Anderson, Ph.D.
Susan McGee, M.S.
University of Arkansas Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Abstract

Jobs in several regions of the U.S. are expanding faster than the number of available and qualified workers. However, traditional education in many secondary schools is not adequately preparing youth to take advantage of these opportunities. The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 was enacted by Congress to encourage schools to design new initiatives to better prepare students to enter and compete in the workplace. The three core components of the Act are defined. Keys to successful partnerships are discussed and examples provided. The authors' own search for model programs serving students who are deaf or hard of hearing is described.
 

The Skills Gap

The January 20, 1997 issue of Time magazine included an article titled, "Where the Jobs Are." Of interest was how the article opened, "Want a Job? Tool and die companies in Toledo, Ohio are so strapped for skilled help that they're recruiting in Russia where good workers are shivering and unemployed--Or think about Silicon Valley, where two jobs await every qualified applicant and an astonishing 18,000 technical and managerial slots remain unfulfilled" (Greenwald, 1997, p. 55). The main message in the article was that jobs in several regions of the U.S. are expanding faster than the number of available and qualified workers. Also, while many of these jobs require training beyond high school, not all require a 4-year college degree. The article ended with predictions that the job growth will continue well into the next century as long as the economy remains strong.
 
With an expanding economy and employers facing difficulty filling many jobs, the 1990's seems to be an ideal time for students preparing to enter the job market. However, traditional education in many secondary schools is not adequately preparing youth to take advantage of the job opportunities in today's job market. In a national survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers, 87% of the responding employers indicated difficulties finding qualified candidates for jobs at all levels ranging from unskilled to highly technical positions (The Center for Workforce Success, 1998). In addition, the responding employers also reported that approximately two-thirds of their incumbent employees possess deficiencies in basic job skills such as timeliness, math, writing, and oral communication. One avenue for decreasing the skills gap is increased collaboration between schools and employers. A strategy for promoting this collaboration is the emergence of school to work initiatives.

 
The Emergence of School to Work Initiatives

Along with legislation passed in more than a dozen states, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 was enacted by Congress to encourage schools to design new initiatives to better prepare students to enter and compete in the workplace. The strategies developed under this legislation are known as "school-to-work" or "school-to-careers" initiatives. They are based on incorporating learning in the classroom with learning in the workplace or exposing students to "real work in real workplaces" (Bailey, 1995, p.1).
 
The goals of these initiatives apply to all youth, deaf or hearing, college bound or non-college bound. However, since change in the workplace is occurring at such a breathtaking pace, schools alone cannot do the job of preparing students for the workplace of today and tomorrow. Many other stakeholders must participate as collaborators to help create new visions and strategies.
 
The key to linking effective classroom and workplace learning is the establishment of productive partnerships among schools, employers, postsecondary institutions, and community-based programs such as vocational rehabilitation. These partnerships offer considerable potential for developing programs and infrastructures to link school and work opportunities for all youth, including those who are deaf. In the sections that follow, the philosophy and core components of the school-to-work initiatives are summarized and key elements of successful school-to-work partnerships are discussed.
 

Philosophy and Core Components
of the School to Work Initiatives

A basic premise underlying school-to-work initiatives is that every student--both college-bound and non-college bound--can benefit from being exposed to career options through learning by doing and applying abstract concepts to real-life situations (National School-to-Work Opportunities 1997 Report to Congress). Through this approach to learning, students are provided with opportunities to learn academic subjects by seeing knowledge learned in the classroom applied in the real world. They are also provided with opportunities to learn job-specific information and skills and relate them to their classroom learning through direct experiences in actual workplace settings. Such experiences are intended to help students discover what career options fit their interests and abilities. School-to-work initiatives are guided by the philosophy that it is of little use for students to be shown a "menu" of career opportunities without being allowed to "taste the entrees" since for many young people, the transition from formal schooling to careers is unstructured, haphazard, and often frustrating (National School-to-Work Opportunities 1996 Report to Congress). Many school leavers tend to "flounder" for many years before they settle on a stable job or career. Thus, school-to-work initiatives aim to help young people define career goals and determine which postsecondary education or training options are a best fit in order to pursue their career interests (National School-to-Work Opportunities 1996 Report to Congress; Chew, 1995).

Perhaps the most significant philosophical premise of the school-to-work initiatives is the emphasis on integrating school-based and work-based learning. This means the focus is on "preparation through work" as opposed to "preparation for work (Chew, 1995). By integrating school-based and work-based learning, pathways can be created for students to follow as they move from school to further education or their first jobs. The three core components contained in the School-to-Work Act of 1994 that emphasize the philosophy of preparation through work are school-based learning, work-based learning, and connecting activities. Each component, briefly summarized from the National School-to-Work Opportunities 1997 Report to Congress ( p.13) is presented below:

In sum, these three key components focus on applied learning and work-related schooling. Crucial to this process are the partnerships between schools, employers, postsecondary programs, and community-based programs such as vocational rehabilitation. Also, the more successful school-to-work models are those that build and sustain partnerships among the key players. In the following section we will discuss some of the key elements of successful partnerships.
 

Key Elements of Successful
School-to-Work Partnerships

Because many of the school-to-work initiatives are new and evolving, most programs are still in their formative stages of development and implementation. The experiences and success of a number of programs, however, has made it possible to identify several core elements that are critical to effective school-to-work initiatives (Olson, 1997; National School-to-Work Opportunities 1996 Report to Congress; Charner, Fraser, Hubbard, Rogers, & Horne, 1995). Some of these key elements are described and brief case examples are provided to illustrate their applications in "real life settings."

Search for Exemplary Programs

To date, several nationally-funded projects have profiled programs that were nominated as model school-to-work initiatives. These projects, however, did not focus on identifying model school-to-work partnerships specifically designed to benefit deaf students. To address this need, the University of Arkansas's Research and Training Center is currently soliciting nominations for programs that are providing school-to-work experiences for deaf students. Nominations are invited from a broad range of programs serving deaf students - including programs in secondary, postsecondary, or community-based settings. Nominations can be sent to the authors via their website or mailing address listed below. The nominations should include program name, contact person's name, address, phone number, and a brief statement of why the program is being nominated.

The goal of this effort is to identify programs that are successfully implementing elements of the three core components of the school-to-work initiatives--school-based learning, work-based learning, and connecting activities. Descriptive profiles of the programs will be compiled into a resource document for dissemination to programs interested in establishing and/or improving their school-to-work programs for deaf students.
 

Concluding Remarks

This is both a challenging and exciting time in the education of deaf students. As educators, we can continue to let things remain as they are, or we can take up the challenge of the school-to-work initiatives to better prepare our students for the 21st century.
 
For more information about what is being done related to school-to-work, contact the following programs.

Glenn Anderson, Ph.D. GAnderso@comp.uark.edu
Susan McGee, M.S. SMcGee@comp.uark.edu
University of Arkansas Rehabilitation Research and Training Center
for Persons who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
4601 W. Markham
Little Rock, AR 72205
(501) 686-9691 v/TTY
(501) 686-9698 (FAX)
http://www.uark.edu/depts/rehabres
 
The National School-to-Work Learning & Information Center
400 Virginia Avenue, Room 210
Washington, DC 20024
(800) 251-7236
(202) 401-6211 fax
http://www.stw.ed.gov

 
References

Bailey, T. (1995). (Ed.). Learning to work: Employer involvement in school-to-work transition programs. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution

California School for the Deaf (Undated). Career center handbook. Fremont, CA: California School for the Deaf.

Charner, I., Fraser-Shore, B., Hubbard, S., Rogers, A., & Home, R. (September, 1995).

Reforms of the school-to-work transition: Findings, implications, and challenges. Phi Delta Kappan, 57-59.

Chew, C. (1995). School to work transition: Resources for counseling. Madison, WI: Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Greenwald, J. (January 20, 1997). Where the jobs are. Time, 149, 3, 55-62.
 
Olson, L. (1997). The school-to-work revolution: How employers and educators are joining together to prepare tomorrows skilled workforce. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
 
Report to Congress (September, 1997). Implementation of the school-to-work opportunities Act of 1994. Washington, D.C.: National School-to-Work Opportunities Office.
 
Report to Congress (September, 1996). Implementation of the school to work opportunities act of 1994. Washington, D.C.: National School to Work Opportunities Office.
 
---------(1998). 1998 State profiles. Washington, D.C.: National School to Work Opportunities Office.
 
The Center for Workforce Success (1998). The skills gap: The shortage of qualified workers: A growing challenge to the American economy. National Association of Manufacturers: Center for Workforce Success, The Marketing Institute.
 


 Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to:
Cheryl D. Davis, Ph.D., Coordinator
Northwest Outreach Center
Regional Resource Center on Deafness
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Monmouth OR 97361
503-838-8642 (v/tty)
503-838-8228 (fax)
http://www.wou.edu/nwoc
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Last modified 20AUG1999