In the Classroom Policy
Full-Immersion Work-Based Learning
February 7, 2018
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Heidi King

Patrick’s alarm goes off at 5:30 am.  He rolls out of bed and gets dressed.  He has to clock in at Gestamp by 7am, which he’s learned means arriving no later than 6:45.  Patrick is saving for a car, but for now he pays Uber $20 a day to get to and from work.  This is not the easiest life for an 18 year old high school senior to face, but this experience has changed the course of Patrick’s life for the better.  

Gestamp is an automotive component supplier to several major players in the car industry.  It is a global company headquartered in Spain with a presence in 21 countries.  In Chattanooga, TN, Gestamp has three plants. This year Gestamp opened 15 full-time positions on their production floors to be filled by 30 Hamilton County WBL (Work-Based Learning) students.  Unlike most WBL programs, the Gestamp program takes a full-immersion approach. Students work and attend school on Gestamp premises.   Students split full time shifts, working in one of the three plants for four hours and attending the Learning Lab which is located inside one of the plants for three hours of the school day.  Half of the students work from 7am-11am and attend the Learning Lab from 11:30-2:30 and the other half attend the Learning Lab from 7:30-10:30 and work in the plant from 11:00-3pm.  Students earn $9 per hour with the potential of making $10 per hour if production and attendance goals are met.  This allows students to gross up to $200 a week during traditional school hours.  This model has attracted many students who need to contribute monetarily to their families.  Even more so, this program is reaching the students who’ve become disengaged in their traditional high school setting.

The program is open to all juniors and seniors across Hamilton County’s 18 high schools with no age requirement. Transportation is the responsibility of the student.  This, as expected, has been the most challenging part of the program’s first year.  Safety was a large concern for all stakeholders.  For this reason, Gestamp provided a critical position to one of its employees.  Mandy Lusk was charged with coordinating, guiding and supervising the WBL students on the work floor.  She is their contact for all things work related.  In coordination with their actual floor supervisors, Mandy keeps the students in line and as safe as possible.  

The students complete their schoolwork utilizing the Edgenuity online learning platform.  Students have been quite successful with this model.  One reason is the added support role of Hamilton County High School teachers.  Each week a math teacher spends the day in the lab to support the students.  Other subject teachers come on an as needed basis with a Special Education teacher coming weekly.  At the halfway point of the year, 43% of students have completed all the required coursework to graduate from their home high school…yes, they remain students of their zoned high school while participating in the program.

Back to Patrick…He completed high school early, graduating in December.  He is close to buying that car and can contribute monetarily to his mother and family.  Before the program, he’d never thought of a career in manufacturing, but now he’s considering attending the community college in the fall to earn a degree in industrial maintenance.  Regardless of his career path,  the experience and soft skills he’s gained while participating in the program will prove invaluable as he moves forward in life.

See the program video by visiting YouTube and searching for “Hamilton County Gestamp”

Heidi King is a second career Business and Personal Finance teacher at Hamilton County HS where she was named 2016-17 Teacher of the Year. Prior to HCHS, she served as Dropout Prevention Coach on a three year school improvement grant in Walker County, GA. There she was an active member of the Leadership and Data Team and chaired the Attendance Action Committee. Heidi has been the Technology Lead and Webmaster at HCHS for five years and serves on the school’s Leadership Team. Heidi received her Bachelor of Business degree from Kennesaw State University in Marketing, her Master of Education degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Secondary Education, and her Education Specialist degree from Valdosta State University in Performance-Based Leadership. She also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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