PAWTUCKET — It sure looks good on a resume. Shea High School is the only high school in the nation right now to hold a charter from the American Society of Public Administration for its Government and Public Administration Academy.
Now in its sixth year, Shea's Government and Public Administration Academy has attracted national attention from educators and is now used as a model in the career academy framework. The distinction from the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA) that was given in March caps the work that was put into developing the program's curriculum — pretty much from scratch — by Michael Connolly, the school department's Director of Applied Learning.
Connolly, a retired social studies teacher and department chairman at Shea, worked in conjunction with the faculty of Roger Williams University, particularly Dr. Edward Pasturella and, in recent years, Dr. Michael Hall, to come up with a cohesive and engaging program of study for the high school career academy.
The two-year course at Shea, which students begin in their junior year, integrates the classroom curriculum with internship programs so students get to experience what they are learning about how government and public administration translates to the workplace. About 20 to 24 students typically take part in the Public Administration Academy, one of several such career “academies” that exist at both Shea and Tolman High Schools. Through the years, an impressive list of internship possibilities has been assembled for the academy students, ranging from businesses and civic organizations to local and state departments and government agencies.
The students do upper level course work in public administration and government as part of their social studies courses, and then apply for internships that they participate in during their senior year. As seniors, the students attend classes three days a week and spend the other two as interns. Some of the places that Shea Public Administration Academy students have interned include the Rhode Island Secretary of State's Office , Rhode Island Department of Health, Rhode Island Department of Education, Department of Children, Youth and Families, Providence Superior Court, WSBE Channel 36, Gamm Theatre, Pawtucket Boys and Girls Club, Blackstone Valley Tourism Council and Pawtucket Board of Canvassers.
For the students, these internships are a great way to gain valuable workplace experience and will help them to stand out as they apply for college, Connolly noted. He said the experience also helps many of them to focus on some career paths that they might not have otherwise thought about.
Connolly, who is modest about his role in the Public Administration Academy's development, said its recent successes wouldn't have been possible if everyone at Shea and Roger Williams University hadn't been “on the same page” with it. “It didn't just happen overnight,” said Connolly. “We've been working for several years on this program to develop a curriculum that works.” He added that there was no handbook or sample curriculum to follow—it was more of a honing of the subject matter and a steady development of outside contacts that were willing to offer internships. “Now, with the ASPA recognition, it tells us we're doing the right things,” he added.
Ed Kostka, a member of Shea's social studies department who also teaches the Public Adminsirtation Academy courses, said that the two-year program, and especially its internship piece—helps the students to see beyond the classroom and to identify more with the subject matter.
“The internships, especially, help the students with their ability to relate to people in the workplace and outside of the protective environment of the school,” Kostka said.
“It helps them to understand what it means to be a good citizen, and that working in public administration is not only an honorable pursuit but a valuable and necessary one for society.”
Dr. Michael Hall, Director of the Master of Public Administration and Master of Science in Leadership programs at Roger Williams University, noted how important it is for the school's Public Administration Academy to have the industry recognition that comes with the charter designation from the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA). “Shea is the first high school to get a charter from the ASPA,” he noted. He added that this helps not only the school but the Public Administration Academy students as well, particularly as they go on to college and post-college endeavors.
In addition, Shea's Public Administration Academy was inducted into the Rhode Island ASPA at a May 3 Leadership and Public Service Conference held at Roger Williams University's Bay Point Conference Center in Portsmouth, RI; and Connolly and Hall were asked to speak about Shea's program in a workshop at the ASAP's 2011 Annual Conference held in Baltimore, Md.
Several seniors who participated in the program for the past two years said it was a positive experience on all levels. The internships, they said, opened their eyes to some career choices that they might not have considered.
Luckson Omoaregba said he didn't even really know what the term “public administration” was when he first signed up for the academy program. He has since learned how it is linked to the ethics of working in the real world and gaining the experience to be successful. He further credited teacher Edward Kostka, who was a longtime Verizon employee before he switched careers, for sharing his own experiences in the world of business and how it functions with government.
Omoaregba said his internship at Channel 36 has sparked an interest in pursuing a career in communications when he heads to the University of Rhode Island in the fall. “I feel like my opportunity to be part of the Public Administration Academy gave me an edge over other high school students,” he said.
Isaura Dossantos said that she “always wanted to be a politician,” until she saw how the economy has collapsed over the past couple of years. She said through her experience in the academy and her internship with the International Institute, she now wants to work helping newly arrived immigrants on their path to citizenship. She, too, intends to study communications at the University of Rhode Island.
Ronald Robitaille, who just transferred to Shea from Lincoln High School this year, credited the academy and the internship program he just completed with the Rhode Island Department of Health as being very helpful, particular as he had to assimilate into a new school. He called his internship in a micro-biology lab “a great experience,” especially since he intends to pursue college studies in marine biology.
“Being able to have this experience, where work is linked with your courses and you can build network connections, is a great way to end your high school career,” Robitaille stated.