Professional studies opens doors for Purdy students

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

New program provides internships, real life experiences

The professional studies program at Purdy High School, a new outreach to give students hands-on experience in a career setting, has demonstrated gains and opened doors for its participants.


Michelle Hilburn, the professional studies coordinator, explained to school board members how the program has grown from a couple pilot trials last year to studies with an internship component this year.

As director, Hilburn made connections with the business community, establishing sites were students could have on-site training. These have led to a wide variety of internships and experiences, some that broadened interest in other studies. For example, one student working with a veterinarian was surprised to discover the need for math skills in managing medicines.

"Most students have job offers and recommendations to get into college," Hilburn said.

The experience has offered a number of successes. Hilburn noted students came to grips with the meaning of having a job, going to work every day and learning responsibility. Some came to the brink of getting fired for not grasping the concept. Students do not necessarily get a failing grade if they get fired, since the program functions as a learning experience.

Internships have spread over a variety of areas. Several took positions in healthcare and veterinary medicine, one with Roark Diesel Performance. Others, looking at careers in education, interned with teachers in the school district.

Hilburn became worried when some students concluded the area of study they pursued was not for them. Superintendent Steven Chancellor reassured her that was a better revelation than going to college and not finishing after making the same discovery. He also told board members he did not want to "burn bridges" with a cooperating business just because a student intern was not up to the challenge.

Hilburn said last year was much more trial and error. This year, she has focused, getting students better prepared for a job setting. She would also like to better address student interests. She stressed to students to be grateful for any opportunities they received.

The first quarter is all classroom work. In the second quarter, internships begin. She is also starting the application process for next year earlier, in February, in hopes of having all of next year's students placed by the summer.

One of Hilburn's students, Ricky Aldaba, described his experience on an internship with the Barry-Lawrence Ambulance District. He assisted in loading and unloading patients and limited equipment use, such as hooking up a cardiac monitor.

"My favorite part was being able to help save a life," Aldaba said. "I get to help people on their worst day."

He described going on a run to a landing zone for a helicopter transport and pushing the air bag to help the intubated patient breathe.

"Ricky was probably one of our biggest success stories coming out of this," Chancellor said. "How many high school students help keep someone alive? He went on one call where they were afraid a baby was hurt. We learned we need to have counseling available to help him."

Chancellor also observed internships in the medical field required much more paperwork and extras like vaccinations for tuberculosis.

Hilburn said her master's degree was in administration, and she did her dissertation on college and career readiness. The program has helped her apply her training very specifically.

"I love it," Hilburn said "I get asked all the time, 'Can this be my full-time job?' Purdy has gained a reputation due to this program. We are looked at as a school that is progressive and forward thinking in preparing our students for their future careers."

Hilburn sees her 13 students Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. For the coming year, she would like to see the Ed 2020 sessions extended to two hours to provide more time for students in classrooms at work with other teachers. She would like to separate evaluation into two grades, one for classwork and another for the internship. Next year, students will be required to have met all requirements for doing internships, such has having the proper work clothes and getting immunizations, before school begins.

Each of the professional studies students will complete a capstone project as a representative of their work. The education students will complete a small unit plan and writing assignments.

Hilburn plans to have a reception for students in her program at the end of the school year. Participating businesses and cooperating teachers will be thanked for their efforts at that time.

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