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Educators tout internships and apprenticeships at Kalispell Chamber luncheon

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | February 22, 2023 12:00 AM

Learning to fly, interning at a law office, using a surgical robotic arm, identifying fish at a hatchery, creating art to display at the hospital — these were just some of the examples Kalispell Public Schools officials touched on while highlighting the transformational learning taking place in the district during a Kalispell Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.

“So transformational learning, what is it? By definition it is just a flexible system of student-centered learning,” Superintendent Micah Hill told the assembled local business leaders.

While the concept of transformational learning is a decades-old concept in the educational world, it has given administrators and educators like Hill an opportunity to look at how school could be done differently. With additional funding and greater flexibility to innovate, it emerged as a priority for Hill, who was excited to see what staff and community members could come up with during what he anticipated to be a yearslong process.

“It's a big thing. It's a lot to navigate. And it's a lot to change what we do from an education system,” Hill said.

Work- and community-based learning were two areas touted during the Feb. 21 luncheon at Flathead Valley Community College. Internships and apprenticeships are examples of work-based learning, officials said.

“A simple way of looking at it is school outside the four walls of the building,” said Mike Kelly, the district’s director of work based learning.

“You become an educator of your own profession for those students,” he told the audience of business professionals.

In the first semester, there were 38 high school interns learning on job sites around the community. Their ranks grew by 51 in the current semester.

“So that’s a pretty impactful group of students receiving a great educational experience from you as their community,” Kelly said.

Students can earn high school credit depending on the rigor and hours they put into the internships.

“An internship is a way for a student to really get their hands dirty — get out into the community, and get involved in that profession, whatever it might be,” Kelly said. “A lot of times when we're in the classroom, we have received the formal education around a certain subject matter, but we're missing that piece that a student can acquire and experience when they're out in the community, with people like yourselves.”

Kelly shared a few of the takeaways interns have noted from their experiences. For two Glacier High School seniors who interned at Berube Physical Therapy and McCarthy Law, the experience solidified their desire to pursue those careers after graduation.

Students also gained invaluable skills. For one Flathead High School junior, interning at Glacier Jet Center meant learning how to fuel, de-ice and clean the interiors of private, commercial and military planes. And fly.

“One of the main things he wanted to do is acquire his pilot license, so we threw that into the training agreement as well with the staff there,” Kelly said.

Going through a photo slideshow, Kelly pointed out that at the internship’s start, the student was in the cockpit with an instructor. He was flying solo by the end.

“The main thing is students get to have this experience through your ability to work with them. It appears on their transcript, it gets them closer to graduating from high school and it helps them to really determine a career path that they may or may not want to pursue, once they leave high school,” Kelly said.

Prior to diving into an internship, students receive training in topics such as workplace safety, behavior, communication, responsibility, dress and “How to recognize that they’re doing a good job.”

Kelly also works with employers to identify five to 10 training objectives students can expect to become proficient in over the course of an internship, which typically runs a semester, or roughly 18 weeks, in length. It may be longer if a student is taken on in an apprenticeship where they’re working toward certification of licensure.

CHAU YOUNG, director of K-8 community involvement, opened her presentation on community-embedded learning by explaining how education is breaking out of the pandemic-era learning mode.

She likened it to learning to ride a bicycle on a stationary bike in a spin class.

“Our instruction has been self-contained and in the classroom,” Young said. “Students know where to place their hands on the handlebar. They know how to work the pedals. They know how to spin the wheels, but unfortunately, our instruction has been one-dimensional. Learning remains within the four walls of our class.”

She described classroom learning, balanced with off-site learning, as engaging students through memorable experiences where “the content sticks.”

Whether it's trips to the Creston Fish Hatchery or Logan Health — transforming a classroom into an operating room — she explained why partnerships with professionals, experts and community members who want to share their expertise and knowledge with students enriches a student’s education.

“With community-embedded learning, we want to connect the content with real-life situations where application and relevance come into play. These are opportunities where students take what they know, and then they apply it in the real world,” Young said. “Bringing instruction outside of the classroom provides students with the opportunity to have increased awareness of their surroundings. And they become more observant of the interactions that are happening within those settings.”

Young said it might sound daunting for volunteers or businesses to figure out where they fit in, which is why the district is developing a database where teachers can post needs for volunteers to review.

“Through these interactions, students are learning how to engage not only in the community, but with the community, and they are growing their soft skills in the process,” Young said.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.