Coordinator takes Work-Based Learning virtual

Garrett Jennings steps up SWBOCES' already considerable WBL programming

It’s been a challenge for every teacher everywhere since forever: how do you keep kids engaged?

Throw distance learning into the mix, with the inherent distractions of TV, the Internet, mobile devices, the refrigerator and no early morning bus rolling down the street, and teachers right now have plenty of competition for attention spans.  

Instagram post on hip hop therapy

Garrett Jennings, like many others, offers proof that educators are up to the challenge. The Work-Based Learning Coordinator at SWBOCES’ Center for Career Services, Mr. Jennings is leveraging the web and doing what online content providers have long done: He’s meeting his audience where they are.

 That’s why you can scroll the center’s Instagram feed (@swbcareers) and see the following:

  • A virtual Hip Hop Therapy group
  • NYC Men Teach’s virtual info session for aspiring educators
  • Xtreme Intern’s virtual career adventure

Scroll a little past those and you’ll see a few brick-and-mortar opportunities too. FedEx is hiring, for one. The New Rochelle Youth Bureau is accepting applications for its summer youth employment program.

instagram post for virtual teaching job fair

“I think things are moving along,” Mr. Jennings said via a Zoom call from his home. “I’m just trying to figure out how to get the content over to them. We’re managing a lot of school projects and entrepreneurship opportunities via Instagram and Google Classroom.”

 Career and Technical Education students need work-based learning hours toward their graduation credentials. That’s where Mr. Jennings comes in. And like other educators, he’s had to shift on the fly to keep meeting students’ needs.

A perfect example is a wellness fair students in the Emergency Medical Services program were to stage next month (now postponed to the fall). To allow students to accrue needed hours, Mr. Jennings put the project planning into Google classroom with videos and links to resources. 

screenshot of @SWBCareers Instagram page

"This is the interesting part in terms of the preparation of the actual fair,” he said. “I was going to give them hours for that, brainstorming, coming up with activities, working with other departments.”

He has looked at other ideas. Virtual job shadowing could be accomplished through video presentations on various industries, and he’s assessing the best platform for that.

 The challenge, as ever, is to keep them engaged. Students’ core classes at their home schools are coming at them digitally, adding another layer of focus at a time when teachers and students alike are adjusting. CTE students are typically highly motivated in pursuing their career programs, but there is little that’s typical about their schoolwork right now. 

So Mr. Jennings, like educators everywhere, is adjusting. 

“I’m just trying to make the students aware that things are still happening,” he said. “I feel really confident about it. The virtual things I'm learning about are pretty cool and they’re actually pretty encouraging. We’re really stepping  up to the plate.”

The virtual and online trend is extending more generally. The 2020 Work-Based Learning Conference sponsored by the Association of Career and Technical Education in Des Moines will take place virtually on April 22. Mr. Jennings said he is looking at an online management system called Seamless WBL, which would provide a digital support framework for the Work-Based Learning program, enhancing SWBOCES’ already robust WBL offerings.

He is confident that many of the things educators are doing now to help students navigate distance learning and maintain a high level of quality instruction will continue long after. 

“I think the creativity is coming out. I think we’re really supporting each other, which is great,” he said. “We’re all kind of pulling together and the resources are there.”