Root student learning in the real world

As educators seek to expand the reach of CTE, preparing a diverse body of students for a changing workforce, personalized learning initiatives are on the rise. Adriana Plach, continuous improvement coordinator for the Pewaukee School District in Wisconsin, said one of the biggest changes she’s seen as a result of personalized learning is that students now come to high school with a more specific idea of what career they’d like to pursue.

“Before, a student might say, ‘I’m considering a career in health care; I think I want to be a doctor,’” Plach said. “And now I have students that are saying, ‘I would like to be a cardiothoracic surgeon.’”

Insight: a new framework for modern education

In the Pewaukee School District, Plach supports Insight, a mentorship program that roots student learning experiences in real-world contexts. Through partnerships with businesses and professional mentorships with members of the community, students build proficiency with hands-on, authentic learning experiences. Students also earn credits that satisfy high school graduation requirements. But perhaps the most effective and memorable part of the program, Plach said, is the professional mentorship component.

The Insight mentorship program includes students in nine courses:

  • Elements of Health and Medicine
  • Serving Others
  • World Translations
  • Business Innovations
  • Global Business
  • Journalism and Media
  • Technology Support Internship
  • Aviation
  • Engineering Innovations

Students pair up with professional mentors who work in their career fields of interest. They correspond regularly. And students are encouraged to ask questions: What does a typical day look like? How do you network in your field? What education do you need? How did you know the career was a good fit? What don’t you like about the job?

“A student will either validate that this career is a good fit for them, and they start to develop a professional network in the field while they’re in high school,” said Plach. “Or, equally valuable, we’ve had students hit the brakes. They may come out of the mentoring experience recognizing that a certain career isn’t what they thought it was, giving them time to pivot.” Through this process, the students learn to advocate for themselves.

The power of a professional mentorship program

Pewaukee School District has witnessed the powerful impact mentorship can have on students, educators, families and community members. One student found an internship through her mentor. And that internship led to a second internship, which launched her career. Teachers also benefit from support from industry partners. And mentors reported renewed passion in their careers, an improved ability to connect with younger employees, and increased opportunities to recruit future colleagues.

Want to build a mentorship program? Download the handout!

Mentorship Handout_ Techniques January 2024

Laura Bengs is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor in Techniques.

Read more in Techniques: Advocacy & Outreach.