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Top Work-Based Learning programs get training in Hall
Work-Based Learning coordinator and career specialist Shenley Rountree, right, meets with Dwayne Hobbs of the Georgia Department of Education, Deana Harper from North Hall High, and Rhonda Samples of Hall County Schools, left, during Wednesday's Work-Based Learning training program at Lanier Charter Career Academy.

Georgia high schools are placing a greater emphasis on student opportunities for work experience in potential careers integrated into the school curriculum.

And Hall County is among the leaders in the effort, which is called Work-Based Learning.

“Hall County is one of my best programs,” said Dwayne Hobbs, Work-Based learning specialist for the state Department of Education. “If you want to bring people somewhere and see an exemplary program — see how it should be done — and you want to pick it up by osmosis, this is where you take them.”

Rhonda Samples, who oversees Work-Based Learning for Hall County Schools, said the program’s success has come from the commitment from school coordinators and community partners.

“Over the years we have put a lot of hard work into our Work-Based Learning programs, and to be thought of as the state’s exemplary program is awesome,” Samples said.

Hobbs’ Top Gun training, an invitation-only event for the top 20 Work-Based learning programs in the state, was held Monday through Wednesday at the Lanier Charter Career Academy. It marked the third consecutive year Hall County hosted the training.

“Work-Based Learning was created to make that connection from classroom learning to the real world,” said Deana Harper, who leads the program at North Hall High and was one of the Top Gun instructors this week. “Most of our students are going on to postsecondary (schools) and will pursue some type of degree whether it’s at Lanier Tech or a university. But (the program) is about making that connection so hopefully they can make better choices on those options in what they want to study.”

Hall County has achieved success in its efforts. During the 2016-17 school year, the district had 558 total student interns working 223,459 hours in jobs and earning $1,212,408.90 in those jobs, according to Samples. Coordinators made 2,143 visits to students on work sites and made 242 visits to potential new business partners for the programs. A total of 2,652 students attended Work-Based Learning community field trips.

Shenley Rountree, Work-Based Learning coordinator at West Hall High, supervised about 85 students in the 2016-17 school year who worked in jobs in the community for one to four class periods. She said jobs were assigned to align with students’ career goals, and they are paired with a mentor at the job site.

“It’s not like an entry-level job where they are kind of on their own to figure it out,” Rountree said. “The mentor is guiding them and coaching them along. We go and visit two to three times a semester and make sure things are going well. In addition to that, they are doing curriculum focused on soft skills, those employability skills. They are learning those skills in the curriculum as they’re working in the workplace, so they see the relevance of those things together.”

Rountree was one of the 20 selected for the Top Gun training, the third year in a row Hall County has had a participant.

“It’s really focusing on best practices to be the best Work-Based coordinator you can,” Rountree said of the training. “Work-Based Learning is all about giving students career experiences as they go out and work in internships and paid part-time jobs out in the community. It’s about how can we improve our programs so that we’re really maximizing those opportunities.”

Harper said the program helps participants learn how to improve in many areas, including social media exposure and using advisory committees effectively.

“Top Gun training just helps those coordinators who are already doing a good job take their progress from good to great,” she said. “It really just focuses on identifying areas where you might be weak in or areas where you definitely have room for improvement.”

Cree Aiken, who runs the Work-Based Learning program at Johnson High, said participating in Top Gun last year, gave her “fresh ideas and perspectives on how to better my program and get the most out of it for my students.”

Aiken said good and bad work experiences help the students get a better idea of what careers best fit them.

“I tell parents at orientation the whole experience will help their child see things more clearly what they need to do, what their plans need to be,” she said. “Some of students, they’re right on target. It verifies their interest and they know what to do next -- what school to go to, what programs to register for. And sometimes, it makes students stop and rethink the plan they had and realize that they need to start thinking out of the box and start thinking about doing something else.”

Samples, Rountree, Harper and Aiken led sessions during the training event. Other local speakers included Shelley Davis, vice president of existing industry for the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce, and Ross Proctor, who is with the BB&T Center for Ethical Business Leadership in the Mike Cottrell College of Business at the University of North Georgia.