Students share field work experiences

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BENNINGTON — When it comes to figuring out what careers appeal to you, real-life learning is invaluable.

That was the consensus of nine Bennington County high school students who shared their field work learning experiences at a roundtable discussion at Bennington College.

The event was moderated Wednesday by Susan Sgorbati, director of the college's Center for the Advancement of Public Action.

The students, all seniors, have worked everywhere from schools to law offices to medical centers, gaining experience to help clarify what they like — or what they don't like.

"I really proved to myself that this is what I want to do," said Chris Mayer, speaking of his experience working at CAPA.

Namely, he wants to be a lawyer.

"I think this is something everyone should do," Mayer said.

That's because many times students go to college without experience working in a particular field — and once they get there, they decide they hate it, he said.

Other students agreed.

"I definitely think everyone should have this opportunity," said Molly Austin, who interned at the Village School of North Bennington in the nurse's office.

Through field work, the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center student said she's learned she doesn't enjoy geriatric nursing — but pediatrics suits her.

Logan Haley did his field study with Rebecca Mills, Mount Anthony Union Middle School band director.

He said his life experience has been unusual — he's been training to be a classical flutist for years.

"But that's not typical for most students," he said.

Like Mayer, he drew a connection between wasting time and money in college by not having experience in one's chosen path.

"You hate it," he said. "You've wasted all this money. You've wasted all this time. It really sheds a light on the importance of work-based learning pre-college, so you can understand, `wow, I hate this,' or `wow, this is really what I want to do.'"

Brianna Murray said she's always thought she wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but everything changed after work-based learning. Now she plans to major in business management in college, with a minor in accounting.

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She did her field work at the Companies of JJ Young.

In response to a question from Sgorbati, multiple students said they were unimpressed by an interest profiler tool they had to use to inform their personalized learning plans (PLPs), which are required under the state education initiative Act 77.

Haley suggested not "force-feeding" the results from the interest profiler into the PLP.

Laura Boudreau, assistant superintendent for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, thanked the students for sharing what worked well — and what didn't.

"This conversation is incredibly targeted, and I love that," she said.

She asked the students for their thoughts on how to get more students involved in work-based experiences.

"I didn't know about work-based experience until the last week of junior year," Austin said. It would be better if "it was more known, and people didn't find out last minute," she said.

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Gillian Calkins, who interned at Fisher Elementary School, said that hearing the phrase "work-based learning" can make kids think they have to do more work than usual.

"Kids are kind of lazy," said Calkins, a student at Arlington Memorial High School. "We're all lazy at some point. If kids knew that it wasn't just extra work, it was work that you enjoyed ... it's stuff you actually enjoy doing."

Students getting to leave the building and work with someone who's counting on them and depending on them can be transformative, said Jennifer Moore, school-to-work director at MAUHS, who attended the event.

"I think that's one of the most magical things I've seen for seniors," she said.

"I think that's what students need to hear, too," Mayer said. "What you put in is what you're going to get out."

Wendy Klein, work-based learning coordinator at the CDC, said students are the best ambassadors for the program.

"As many positive things as you can share, if you can put the word out there, your words are going to mean more," Moore said to the students.

At the event, Klein told Boudreau that she's seen students' schedules present a barrier to work-based learning.

They only have so many blocks of time — and they need flexibility for these work-based experiences.

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Students agreed.

When you only have four classes in a day, it's hard to plan to take community service and field study and still graduating on time, Haley said.

In order to do that, he said, he had to take summer classes.

Sgorbati asked the students to describe the most memorable thing they learned in their experience.

"If you're uncomfortable with something, don't do it," said Brooklyn Merriam, who interned at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in the medical-surgical unit and in the Shaftsbury Elementary School nurse's office.

She described how some nurses she observed would ask other nurses to do something, if they didn't feel ready for the task.

"That seems like a good life lesson in general," Sgorbati replied.

Morgan Prouty, who also did her field study with Mills at MAUMS, said she learned how to manage a classroom, as she plans on getting her secondary teaching license.

Haley said he was inspired by Mills, and her ability to work with a "really challenging" age group and set up her students for success.

Emily Calder, who interned in the public defender's office in Bennington County, said she remembered how the lawyer she interned for was sensitive to people on the other side of the trial in a "very sensitive" topic, but he was still able to do his job.

She observed multiple aspects of the trial, including jury drawing.

Twenty-six students participated in the CDC's Work-Based Learning Seminar this school year, and of those, 10 enrolled in an Exploratory Workplace Experience course through the Community College of Vermont, in a dual enrollment option, Klein said in an email.

Many CDC students also participate in short-term co-op or work-based learning experiences through rotation programs.

At MAUHS, 49 students this semester participated in field study or community service, Moore said in an email.In community service, students volunteer at local school and non-profits during the day. In field study, students explore career interests through taking on an interning role.

This semester 11 students participated at sites like MAUMS, True Love Farm and the Bennington's Community Development Office.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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