For thousands of students, Groundhog Day each Feb. 2 has a special meaning beyond Punxsutawney Phil looking for his shadow. On that day, school districts across the country offer "job shadow" programs where students spend time on job sites with adult mentors. Even if students have an idea what career they may pursue, they are typically unsure of what these jobs are really like. A shadowing experience, such as with a newspaper reporter or an engineer, allows students to gain those insights through learning first-hand about work environments. It can also help individuals make better decisions in planning to achieve their career goals.
In the past several years the Career Center at Killingly High School in Connecticut (www.killingly.k12.ct.us/khs/career) has scheduled more than 1,000 job shadow assignments at work locations such as construction companies, hospitals, restaurants, research labs, social service agencies, the local fire department and the state police. Norman Barrette, a developer of shadowing experiences for the district, says he prefers placing students in one-to-one situations so individuals focus on the realities of the workplace. That reinforced interests in meteorology for a student who shadowed a television weatherman; a student who observed surgeries at an animal clinic decided that veterinary medicine would not be a personal career goal.
To participate, students must have good grades and good attendance records and be able to provide their own transportation, though district buses may be used if many students are assigned to nearby sites, he says. Participants must also submit job shadow contracts, trip permits and teacher notification forms before the assignments begin, and complete evaluation questionnaires and send thank you letters following each experience.
GROUNDHOG JOB SHADOW DAY BellSouth (www.bellsouth.com) launched the first large-scale corporate-sponsored job shadow program for secondary school students in the southeastern states six years ago, with help from company volunteers. A year later, the National Job Shadow Coalition (www.jobshadow.com) was organized to expand the concept nationwide, with the participation of America's Promise led by Colin Powell (www.americaspromise.org), Junior Achievement (www.ja.org) and the U.S. Department of Labor. As a result, National Groundhog Job Shadow Day is part of a yearlong effort linking on-the-job experiences with curriculum inputs that tie academics to the workplace. (Because Groundhog Day occurs on Sunday, this year's program will run on Jan. 31.)
The coalition offers extensive free Web resources for local job shadow programs, with online news, success stories, sponsorship information, how-to guides, and an e-mail information list. The site also sponsors a "virtual job shadowing" option where students can shadow professionals over the Internet, and access profiles of people in various careers who share insights and advice about their jobs and lives. Last year's groundhog job shadow day involved more than one million students and workers in 100,000 businesses across the country.
A study by California-based Kravis Leadership Institute (research.mckenna.edu/kli) found that students who participate in job shadowing tend to have more positive expectations about their futures, believing that they are more likely to finish high school, obtain a college degree, and get a full-time job than are non-participants. Job shadowing benefits schools and communities, so if your district needs to develop such opportunities for your students, the Internet offers useful program models in every state, related resources including Career Clusters (www.careerclusters.org) and career-specific teaching materials such as the free Forensics in the Classroom (www.courttv.com/forensics_curriculum) chemistry units developed by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.