Career Partners and CCPS Launch Inaugural English Learner Externship Program

In a pioneering move aimed at empowering English Learner (EL) students, Career Partners, Inc. (CPI) and Culpeper County Public Schools (CCPS) successfully concluded its first-ever English Learner Externship program last week. The initiative, which ran from February 26 to March 1, 2024, saw the participation of ten students, five from each high school, who were selected to gain hands-on experience in four local businesses. Participating businesses included Cedar Mountain Stone, Collector’s Den, 4 C's Restaurant, and 101 Latino Multi-Services.

The program, the brainchild of CPI, was designed to provide EL students with practical exposure to the workforce while enhancing their language skills in real-world settings. Kirsten Bradley from the CCPS Family Resource Center (FRC) coordinated the logistics of the program. She explained, “Our students experienced work life from different quarry jobs and duties, restaurant operations, understanding the retail industry, and financial services within our own Culpeper community.”

The students’ preparation for the program began with a meeting with the participating businesses at the beginning of February to ensure a smooth and productive experience. This proactive approach, which included interpreter support from the Family Resource Center (FRC), aimed to familiarize both students and their families with the expectations and opportunities presented by the externship. They also learned of the program benefits, which included earning an official High Quality Work Based Learning credit through the Virginia Department of Education, which is a requirement for graduation. Also, thanks to a generous grant from the PATH Foundation, administered through Career Partners, students received an incentive for their dedicated week of work.

Overall, the EL externship program was successful because it was a collaborative effort between various stakeholders within the schools and the community. In addition to CPI and local businesses, multiple CCPS departments came together, including the transportation department who provided vans to facilitate transportation and food service who provided meals. Central Office, FRC, and CTEC staff not only supported logistics, but also drove the vans to and from the high schools and businesses each day. Natalie Armstrong, ESL Administrative Assistant said, “This week has been a very inspiring experience. I appreciated getting to learn from the students, their experiences, and the businesses in our community. It has been uplifting to see how the students were inspired in our community and the connections they made together.”

The inaugural English Learner Externship program received positive feedback from all involved. Students expressed gratitude for the opportunity to apply their language skills in real-world scenarios, while businesses appreciated the enthusiasm and dedication demonstrated by the students. While one week was not enough time to teach students to operate heavy equipment at Cedar Mountain Stone, the students really enjoyed learning about the equipment and the other operations that occur there. CCHS student Nehemias Quinteros Guzman shared, “Going to Cedar Mountain Stone is a lot of fun because they teach you how to do many things. One of the things is that they teach you how to operate machines, they also show you how to do things in the laboratory. You can also see one of the explosions in the mine. And the last day we went they gave us souvenirs.”

Reflecting on the success of the program, CCPS Director of Career and Technical Education, Randi Richards-Lutz, emphasized the importance of initiatives that bridge the gap between classroom learning and practical application. "The English Learner Externship program exemplifies our commitment to providing diverse and inclusive opportunities for all students," Richards-Lutz stated. "By partnering with local businesses and community organizations, we can empower our students to thrive in both academic and professional settings."

“From flipping omelets to analyzing quarry samples, these ten students have shown the impressive skills, initiative, and work ethic of our emerging workforce,” shared Marty Bywaters-Baldwin, Chief Mission Officer for Rappahannock Goodwill and Career Partners board member. “Many thanks to our local employers who mentored, coached, and guided the externs.”

To wrap-up the program for this year, there will be a meeting in March for students to formally reflect on their experiences with CPI and CCPS staff. Looking ahead, CPI and CCPS aim to build upon the success of the inaugural program. The plan for next school year is to expand the program to include more students and to increase the number of businesses. Eastern View student Miranda Hazell Diaz, who spent the week at the Collector’s Den, supports the continuation of the program. She said, “It was a beautiful and unique experience, I think they should continue with this project, it gives us a life lesson, so when we go out into the world to experiment you will already have a perspective of how to work outside, I learned many new things.”

four people standing behind restaurant counterstudents holding certificates with business peoplefour people wearing hard hatsfive people standing under collector's den sign