It all started with a search for a new pair of shoes. Who knew that a simple shopping trip for Kristen Bandy would turn into one of the most successful work-based learning partnerships for Oskaloosa Community School District?

Over 12 years ago, Bandy, the school-to-work internship coordinator at Oskaloosa, stepped into the town’s Brown's Shoe Fit Company to browse for new footwear. There she met Brian Myers, the store’s manager/partner. The two had an instant rapport and shared excitement for their community, and Myers would eventually become one of Bandy’s biggest local business collaborators for work-based learning. Through this partnership, they have provided high-quality internships and other work-based learning experiences for Oskaloosa High School students for nearly a decade.

“It’s been great working with Brian on internship experiences,” Bandy said. “The students find him outgoing and easy to talk to. He is able to work one-on-one with students and provide them with real-life business experiences.”

Brown's Shoe Fit Company is Bandy’s go-to partner for students who are interested in business careers such as management, entrepreneurship, accounting, sales and marketing and more. Interns at Brown's Shoe Fit Company often can experience working the sales floor, reviewing inventory spreadsheets and merchandise options and overseeing accounting invoices. Through these hands-on experiences, students can also strengthen general professional skills like communication, customer service and teamwork.

“It’s very rewarding to work with a student who may be quiet and reserved at first and see their communication skills develop,” Myers said. “The internships can help any kid who comes this way, even those who don’t necessarily plan to go into business.”

Oskaloosa’s internships coincide with their trimester schedule in high school, and typical internships last 12 weeks. As the internship coordinator, Bandy is continuously working to ensure that the internships are running smoothly and are providing value for both students and businesses.

“You have to give yourself time to make personal contacts and provide supports,” Bandy said. “That’s the benefit of having a coordinator for work-based learning. They have the time to focus on creating and maintaining relationships with businesses and work together to provide the best experiences for students.”

Myers agrees that having Bandy as a coordinating partner has been beneficial for the success of the internships at Brown's Shoe Fit Company.

“We’re in constant communication,” he said. “She has continued to learn about the business to understand what types of students would best match with us.”

Internship coordinators who are solely focused on work-based learning can also assess if a student is prepared prior to going onsite for an internship. At Oskaloosa, Bandy meets with each student to see if they have an interest and aptitude for a particular field for an internship placement. Students often prepare by enrolling in Bandy’s vocational exploration class that teaches financial literacy and professionalism as well as how to write a resume, apply for jobs and read pay stubs. Additionally, interview techniques are also provided through the school’s English department.

“This process has been working well for us,” Bandy said. “The preparation helps students think about their different career interests before getting to the actual internship environment.”

For Brown's Shoe Fit Company, Myers believes the internship program at Oskaloosa has also provided positive benefits for his store.

“My biggest return is that it keeps my business on the cutting edge,” he said. “Students have provided input on the buying process. They’ve gone to shoe shows and given their opinions on what’s trendy. They’ve also helped with marketing and what apps to use to advertise to a younger clientele.

“It helps us continue to flourish and grow as a business.”

Myers enjoys providing work-based learning and career experiences for students. Along with internships, he has also provided presentations and one-on-one career discussions with students at Oskaloosa. Oftentimes, the connections and internships made through the school lead to paid part-time work positions for students.

“So far, I’ve hired six former interns to do part-time work after school and in the summer,” he said. “It’s a good way for them to continue applying what they’ve learned before they go off to college.”

Additionally, Brown's Shoe Fit Company has also become a Registered Apprenticeship site that can provide business training to individuals interested in learning while earning a wage.

Work-based learning programs are a valuable part of education in Iowa, and internship coordinators like Bandy provide critical assistance to the students looking for a potential college and career pathway prior to graduation and to the businesses that support them.

“These experiences are crucial,” Bandy said. “I just try to keep things going, addressing any problems right away to provide the best experiences. These experiences will shape the future of these students’ lives.”

Questions on developing high-quality work-based learning programs in Iowa can be directed to Iowa’s work-based learning consultant Kristy Volesky at Connections to resources, guide materials and upcoming events on work-based learning can be found on the Department’s website.

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