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July 17, 2014

VCSC looking to expand student learn/work program

TERRE HAUTE — The Vigo County School Corp. is looking for business and industry partners to give high school seniors real-world experience in career pathways.

The VCSC Career and Technical Education program hosted a meeting Wednesday to explain the new work-based learning program, which replaces what was formerly known as cooperative education.

The state Board of Education acted on changes in December. “We are blazing new ground here,” said Doug Dillion, the district’s CTE director. “We hope to get companies signed up.”

The Region 7 Works Council, which Dillion chairs, made recommendations to the state regarding work-based learning. “We’re ground zero,” he said.

Fourteen people attended the informational meeting in the VCSC board room. Among those attending were representatives of automotive businesses, the Vigo County Public Library, Joink, Novelis, the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, Ivy Tech Corporate College and Work One.

Attendees had an opportunity to ask questions, comment and raise concerns. Some of the concerns relate to liability and the age of students. One of the options being studied is the possibility of paying students through stipends, although the work-based experiences could be either paid or unpaid.

The goal of the program “is to help kids get a more enriched experience and a better understanding of the careers out there,” Dillion said.

They may find they’ve chosen the right career path or they may learn “it’s not for me,” Dillion said. Better to find that out “before their parents spend $50,000 on college.”

The program also is an opportunity to build the community’s workforce and train prospective employees.

The district’s CTE program offers 28 career pathways. They fall under trade/industry, business and service industry and include such diverse areas as manufacturing, machining, logistics, marketing, hospitality/culinary and education professions.

One of the differences between cooperative education and work-based learning is that before, students completed the career-related classes and then did the cooperative learning experience in a work setting.

“Now, they are still in the [career-related] classes while they are doing the work-based learning,” Dillion explained Thursday. For example, students might take an automotive service class in the morning and then go to businesses that afternoon where they get experience in automotive services.

By having a class and work experience in the same trimester, students are able to go back to a teacher with questions, if they have any. Also, students are expected to do something in the workplace that relates to the career pathway.

Students would be able to earn up to two credits per trimester, or six total their senior year. The students could be paid, or not paid, as part of their experience.

To earn one credit in a trimester, a student would  have to work at least six hours per week at the business or industry; to earn two credits, a student would have to work at least 12 hours per week.

“We need buy-in from industry — we need industry’s help,” Dillion said.

One business representative asked if it would be possible to interview students before placement and whether it would be possible to talk to teachers and know the students’ grades.

Dillion assured those attending the school district will determine those students eligible to participate and those students must apply.

The district doesn’t have to implement work-based learning, he said. “We could totally ignore it and just teach just the curriculum. … We think the kids will be better off if they have the industry contact.”

Among those attending the information meeting was Tom Klingele, general manager of Fastenal at 11th and Poplar streets. “We’re considering it,” he said Thursday. “I think it’s a good thing for students and a good thing for us.”

There are some issues to resolve, including the age of students. “We don’t normally have people under 18,” he said. The company is looking at ways to resolve any possible obstacles.

Also attending was Kim Marlow, human resources manager at Novelis. “I think it’s something I definitely want to explore a little further. We really are struggling with finding qualified applicants, and I think we’re learning that sometimes, you have to grow them from within,” she said.

The company does have a process for hiring employees that includes pre-employment physicals and drug screenings. Also, it must follow company policies. “It’s something we are very interested in, but we live in a litigious world,” she said.

Dillion said those attending provided valuable feedback that will be used to improve the program and address any challenges.

Businesses or industries interested in learning more can contact Dillion at 812-462-4470 or email him at

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or


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