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Florida Meets the School-To-Work Challenge

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 made funds available so states could establish their own school-to-work programs. As a result, hundreds of programs were developed nationwide. Read about one state's response and learn how a fully implemented school-to-work program might progress from elementary through high school.

In 1995, Florida was awarded a five-year, $54.6 million grant, funded by The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, to implement its school-to-work initiative. That grant, managed jointly by the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security, resulted in the development of a number of programs designed to provide students with the means to achieve economic independence and to provide employers with a competent and competitive workforce.

"These school-to-work programs motivated kids by allowing them to relate and apply what they're learning and by helping them to make intelligent choices about what they want to be," John Casbarro, regional coordinator in Florida of the KAPOW (Kids and the Power of Work) program, told Education World.

The programs varied from district to district, and even from school to school, but all focused on meeting four key goals:

  • raising academic standards by providing demanding course work that is relevant to student's lives
  • reducing the dropout rate by demonstrating a relationship between schoolwork and career aspirations
  • improving career opportunities by providing hands-on training in employable skills
  • producing a more skilled workforce by providing a work-based curriculum and on-site training

To see how those goals might be implemented throughout a student's academic career, let's explore a Florida program at each level of public education.


At the elementary level, the goal of the Florida school-to-work program was awareness. Lessons and activities were geared toward providing students with a better understanding of how their schoolwork relates to the workplace and answering the age-old question "Why do I need to know this anyway?" To achieve that goal, more than 40 Florida elementary schools relied on the KAPOW program. Developed in 1991 by the National Child Labor Committee and Grand Metropolitan, Inc. (the owner of such businesses as Burger King, Hagen Daz, and Vision Corner), KAPOW creates partnerships in which schools and area businesses work together to educate elementary-aged students about the world of work.

In the KAPOW program, an area business forms an alliance with a local elementary school and agrees to provide incentives to the company's employees who volunteer to work with students at that school. Each volunteer commits to visit his or her assigned classroom seven times during the year and to conduct professionally-designed lessons focusing on self-awareness, decision-making, positive work habits and attitudes, teamwork and interdependence, communication, job and career awareness, and overcoming biases and stereotypes. Lessons might include writing a resume, creating an advertising storyboard, designing a product, role-playing a job-related situation, or planning a group event. The lessons culminate with a class visit to the area business, during which students actually participate in work-related activities. Students might, for example, assemble phones at Lucent Technologies, wait on tables aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, or create computerized medical records at Miami Children's Hospital.

The KAPOW curriculum, therefore, designed to be completed in a single year (typically third, fourth, or fifth grade), introduces students to the workplace both conceptually and physically through a combination of classroom work and on-site experiences.


The focus of Florida's school-to-work program in middle school was exploration. The curriculum and organization at Tallahassee's Belle Vue Middle School provides one example of how that was achieved. At Belle Vue, students worked in teams and study core subjects using a thematic, project-based method, rather than the traditional subject-based approach. Each theme incorporated academic skills as well as personal development, work-related behaviors, and vocational training.

For example, a project based on a courthouse theme might have included an exploration of specific legal issues, the development of conflict resolution skills, discussions of citizen rights and responsibilities, and the opportunity to conduct a mock trial in an actual courtroom.

At Belle Vue, business partners provided speakers, mentoring, and internship opportunities, as well as specialized curriculum input. In addition, students at Belle Vue participated in a school-wide economic system, in which they earned "salaries" for positive attitudes and behaviors and for running enterprises such as a school store, post office, and bank. Belle Vue's Satellite Program allowed students to choose from electives, including technology and career awareness. And an internship program allowed qualified students to spend substantial amounts of time at local business or professional sites, including restaurants, hospitals, and law and architectural offices.

The Belle Vue program, supported by grants from the federal Goals 2000 program, was designed to allow students to explore the personal and educational requirements of a variety of jobs and to help them determine whether those requirements match their own interests and abilities.


At the high school level, Florida's school-to-work program stressed involvement. And at some Florida's high schools, involvement means vocational training. Experts say that soon only 20 percent of all jobs will be held by professional workers and only 15 percent will be held by unskilled workers. The remaining 65 percent of jobs will require more than a high school education, but less than a college degree. The curriculum at Miami's William H. Turner Technical Arts High School recognized that trend. Here, students earned a high school diploma while they explored, selected, and trained for, specific careers.

Turner Tech is an open enrollment school in which students are organized into academies based on their chosen areas of interest. The academies -- Agriscience, Applied Business Technology, Health, Industrial Technology, and Public Service/Television Production -- are made up of interdisciplinary instructional teams that stress the ability to integrate academic knowledge with technical skills.

The emphasis at Turner Tech is on applied, rather than theoretical, learning. In addition to their academic studies, therefore, Turner Tech freshman learn about the academy programs available at the school, explore the career options within each academy, and complete personal inventories to determine where their interests and abilities lie. In their second and third years, students choose an area of specialization and begin to acquire hands-on experience in that area. Seniors undertake a more in-depth study of their chosen field and receive on-the-job work experience as they participate in business apprenticeships and community projects.

When they graduate, Turner Tech students are certified to hold jobs in specific careers and they possess the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to obtain and keep those jobs.


Florida's school-to-work system, as envisioned by The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, was intended to be implemented locally by educators and industry partners who were aware of the needs and limitations of their own areas. The programs, therefore, were as diverse as the state and, though the three programs discussed here are only a sample of those that operated statewide, they had many characteristics in common. All were geared toward a system in which "elementary students were provided with career awareness integrated into the regular curriculum; middle-school students explored technology anchored in career applications; and high-school students were provided with early career counseling and assessment, and with structured programs of study, including appropriate work experience and seamless postsecondary articulation."

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

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Updated 1/19/2005