Work placements are helping high school students explore careers, but are also earning top grades from educators for providing exciting learning environments outside the classroom.
"I especially like helping them learn to read and spell," says 19-year-old ECE apprentice Liz Andrews, above with students at the Whitney Child Centre in Toronto.
"Many students tell us they like having an experience outside school that supports their education," says Maxine Wardle, assistant curriculum leader for co-op at Northern Secondary School in Toronto.
"Students get to see what the real world is like," she says. "They have to be on time and they have responsibilities. It's a maturing experience."
More and more students are getting that experience through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), which is sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.
"The benefits of OYAP are threefold," Wardle says. "Students are earning credits towards their high school diploma. They are building skills and hours toward certification in their trade. As well, the government is providing for their further education after high school."
For Northern Secondary School student Liz Andrews, OYAP is an opportunity to fast track a career as an early childhood educator (ECE). She began her apprenticeship last spring at Whitney Child Centre in Toronto, where she works with preschool and kindergarten students.
Her responsibilities include classroom supervision alongside a teacher, outdoor supervision and organizing a variety of activities. "I especially like helping them learn to read and spell," says Andrews, 19. "It's great to see how happy they are when they've accomplished something."
She's also gained valuable lessons along the way, including the respect that goes with her position. "The children look at me like an older sibling. It's cool to see how excited they are to see me. I get lots of hugs," says Andrews.
Just this time last year, Andrews didn't have a career goal. But that all changed after taking a parenting course that required students to work in a kindergarten classroom.
"That experience and a series of babysitting jobs seemed to give Liz a goal and a direction," says Gail Robertson-Whitworth, head of family studies at Northern Secondary School.
"Liz has thoroughly thrived in her co-op placements. She sees the results of what she does and how she interacts with the children," says Robertson-Whitworth. "She did a wonderful display about her work experience. Her supervisor and parents from the child centre came to see it. They were really impressed."
A work placement can be an eye opener for many students considering a career in education.
"People like working with kids because they're cute and fun, but it takes a lot of dedication," says Kim Challenger, manager of Whitney Child Centre.
"Liz has really grown in her ability to see where she's needed in the classroom. That's a real skill," Challenger says. "There's a real ability in a teacher being able to extend and enhance a child's learning. Liz is developing that skill as well."
Just as students have a lot to gain through a work experience, so do employers. "We have an extra adult in the room, which enriches the ratio," Challenger says. "We get young energy and new ideas. Students add a new dimension to the classroom. Children can really relate to them and have fun with them."
(Linda White (firstname.lastname@example.org
) is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)
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