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Public Health Rep. 2009; 124(Suppl 1): 74–83.
PMCID: PMC2708658

Supervising Structured Learning Experiences for Students in New Jersey: Training Teachers in School-Based Occupational Health and Safety Practice

Derek G. Shendell, DEnv, MPH,a,b,c Laura E. Hemminger, MPH, CHES,c Jennifer K. Campbell, MPH, CHES,c and Barry Schlegel, EdD, CIHd

SYNOPSIS

This article describes the structured learning experience (SLE) supervisory training curriculum coordinated by the New Jersey Safe Schools Program, a project supported by the New Jersey Department of Education, Office of Career and Technical Education. The New Jersey SLE supervisory training program comprises training courses and resources for teachers who supervise secondary school minors (students aged 16 to 18 years and special needs students up to age 21) enrolled in various programs—college preparatory, general education, career and technical education, career academies, and special education. One goal of the program is to enhance knowledge and awareness of legal and scientific occupational safety and health principles to ensure safe, rewarding work experiences inside and outside classrooms.

This article describes our experiences and data available from November 2005 to January 2008. We summarize relevant federal and state laws and agencies; potential exposure agents and microenvironments of concern; stakeholders and training partners; process and immediate impact data from SLE supervisory trainings; and lessons learned to inform states that may adopt similar strategies or regulations.

This article introduces, defines, contextually frames, and documents data and experiences of the New Jersey (NJ) Structured Learning Experience (SLE) supervisory training curriculum offered to secondary school teachers to benefit the occupational safety and health of working minors. The NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum is conducted through the NJ Safe Schools (NJ SS) Program, by contract with the NJ Department of Education (NJDOE) Office of Career and Technical Education, with assistance from the NJ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Alliance. This article describes our experiences and data available from November 2005 to January 2008. Before this time, the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum was in development and included the following stages:

  • In December 2003, the first NJDOE pilot programs of “Designing and Implementing Student Training Plans” and state law-based courses were conducted.
  • In March 2004, the first pilot of the “OSHA 10 Plus” course was conducted. “OSHA 10” refers to OSHA's 10-hour general industry outreach training program. The “Plus” refers to an additional two hours of training developed by NJ SS specifically for the SLE supervisory training program.
  • In May 2005, the first pilots of the other federal courses were conducted (Figure 1).
    Figure 1
    The five trainings comprising the New Jersey Structured Learning Experience supervisory training curriculum for school district-approved teachers of minors (students aged 16–18 years)

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

In 2000, approximately 90 million children aged 19 years and younger (mid-year estimate) were in the United States, representing about 32% of the total population, or one in three citizens. The approximate number of U.S. public school students aged 10 to 19 years (preadolescents and adolescents) and, more specifically, those in secondary schools aged 15 to 19 years (“minors” are defined as those aged 16 to 18 years), were 51 million and 30 million, respectively. In NJ, the corresponding numbers were approximately one million and 520,000, respectively.1

Among many potential activities available to older children outside of school, paid and unpaid work experiences are two common legal options, particularly for minors. Therefore, understanding and addressing workplace hazards and potential exposures leading to adolescent health and safety risks has become increasingly important to practicing and promoting improved public health.

Previous peer-reviewed research on occupational injury, illness, and disability among children—including adolescents, minors, and young adults—was limited. Available data covered the following:

  • Longitudinal or cross-sectional national surveys in the U.S.217
  • Longitudinal or cross-sectional national surveys in Canada1823
  • Annual or multiyear surveys, surveillance systems (e.g., through emergency department data or labor department records), or focused local studies in 12 states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin). These analyses were general, specific to agricultural or non-agricultural industries, or specific to jobs such as homebuilding, construction, and retail trades and services.2445

A few studies outside of North America, from New Zealand46 or global in scope, were also available.4749 In summary, there were few published data-driven reports available in the primary literature on most U.S. states, including NJ, and few underlying tracking systems. We also must note that these published studies did not distinguish well-supervised, school-sponsored experiences such as SLEs from the unsupervised employment of minors. However, knowing that minors are a susceptible, vulnerable population group, we believed the need existed for a program with an overall goal of preventing or limiting exposure to occupational hazards to reduce adverse health outcomes among working minors.

Federal and NJ state laws and agencies applicable to the safety of working minors

Federal and state laws protect workers in various indoor and outdoor environments with respect to environmental (community) and occupational exposures. For schools, federal and state laws also pertain to internal and external microenvironments. Internal microenvironments include areas on school grounds, while external microenvironments encompass areas off school grounds, including transportation (as either the driver or the passenger). These laws affect minors who work as part of their school curriculum to gain experience in a particular career field. For NJ SLEs, the focus was on child labor laws and health and safety regulations, in addition to the educational, social, and personal career goals related to school-sponsored SLEs. The key laws pertained to the following topics:

  • Appropriate wages per hour
  • Numbers of hours worked per day and per week, both during and after school
  • Child labor protections
  • Educational requirements for inside the classrooms and at specific workplaces defined by industry and job classification
  • Health and safety requirements inside the classrooms and at workplaces

At the federal level, these laws and regulations are monitored and enforced primarily by the U.S. Department of Labor, including OSHA and the Wage and Hour Division, which both have federal and regional offices. For example, NJ is within OSHA's Region II. Other relevant U.S. federal agencies include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

At the state level, laws, codes, and regulations pertaining to occupational safety and health must also be considered, including workplace attributes and educational trainings. In NJ, these are monitored and enforced by the primary and regional offices of multiple state agencies, including the NJDOE, especially the Office of Career and Technical Education; the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; and the Department of Health and Senior Services (Division of Epidemiology, Environmental and Occupational Health's Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program).

Several aspects of these federal and state laws pertain to SLEs specifically for minors. The NJDOE defines the SLE as an experiential, supervised, comprehensive, in-depth learning experience integrated into the curriculum.50,51 The SLE consists of rigorous classroom and workplace activity components designed to offer each minor the opportunity to explore career interests. These interests can be within one or more state code-defined career clusters. Each career cluster may be classified as hazardous or nonhazardous (N.J.A.C. 6A:8-3.2, on career education and counseling).52 Therefore, through SLEs, students receive opportunities to develop, demonstrate, and apply a higher level of academic achievement, as well as to develop and enhance personal, career, and social goals.

Any SLE is implemented through approved school-based programs (local, state, and federal) as specified in the NJ administrative code (N.J.A.C. 6A:19)53 and is in compliance with federal laws and regulations (e.g., 29 C.F.R. 1910).54 The previously described federal and state laws cover paid and unpaid SLEs. Paid SLEs are tightly regulated because they may occur in hazardous (if permitted under certain criteria) and nonhazardous occupations. Unpaid SLEs occur when an employer receives a learning site designation. The student is not seen as an employee and would be exempt if regulations were followed. Unpaid SLEs may be referred to as internships or volunteer activities with the public or private sector.

The 11 categories of SLEs specified in the NJ administrative code (N.J.A.C. 6A:19) are, in alphabetical order: apprenticeship training, career exploration experience, cooperative education experience, internship, job shadowing, national/community service projects, school-based enterprises, service learning, supervised agriculture experience, volunteer, and work experience career exploration program.53 Minors who participate in SLEs can be enrolled in various academic programs, including college preparatory, general education, career and technical education, career academies, and special education. The underlying philosophy has been that students in SLEs benefit from the focus on higher academic achievement after real-world application of classroom knowledge. Students also benefit from the ability to explore careers with experiences in workplaces in an approved school program subject to federal and state laws.

In general, minors tend to work during one of three time periods: the summer holiday, the academic year (especially after school hours), or on weekends. With SLEs, however, work occurs primarily during school hours with supervision by school personnel. As a result, secondary school teachers were viewed as a contact point for everyone involved in SLEs—principals, assistant/vice principals, staff, parents, caregivers/guardians, and employers. Thus, the NJ OSHA Alliance determined that well-trained teachers could enhance the knowledge, skills, and awareness of minors and stakeholders about health and safety, a belief embraced by NJ agencies.

The SLE supervisory training program

The NJ SS coordinated the initiative to operate the SLE supervisory training curriculum by contract from the NJDOE with assistance from the NJ OSHA Alliance (Figure 2). The NJ OSHA Alliance represented a strong collaborative effort among state and federal agencies including the four Region II OSHA area offices; the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division; the NJDOE; the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development; the University of Medicine and Dentistry of NJ (UMDNJ); and the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a joint institute of the UMDNJ–Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers University. This alliance was originally founded based on specific, formal, work-based trainings conducted jointly since 1992. The result of this union of federal and state agencies, and therefore increased political will, was a unique organizational strategy.

Figure 2
New Jersey OSHA Alliance members supporting the New Jersey Structured Learning Experience supervisory training program for school district-approved teachers of minors (students aged 16–18 years)

The approved NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum for teachers comprised five training courses for 48 contact hours during eight training days (Figure 1). Materials included various print and electronic resources made available to secondary school teachers who supervised minors. Participating teachers were appointed and financially sponsored by their school districts to attend, or they attended on their own at their own expense. Increasing numbers of participating school districts, schools, and teachers helped document the program's success.

Overall goals of the SLE supervisory training curriculum included the enhancement of knowledge and awareness of legal and scientific occupational safety and health principles to ensure safe, rewarding experiences for minors inside and outside classrooms. Among the science concepts highlighted were the following:

  • Potential hazards (biological, chemical, ergonomic, physical, and radiological)
  • Exposure assessment principles, and exposure control, mitigation, and prevention methods and techniques from industrial hygiene
  • Quantitative risk-assessment process, particularly risk characterization, management, and communication steps
  • Reasons why adolescents are more susceptible than adult workers, including various vulnerability factors (e.g., gender, socioeconomic status, and primary language spoken at home)
  • Potential acute adverse health outcome

Teachers and school districts received reassurance to report observed violations without penalty. This effort was facilitated by the trust built among the NJ OSHA Alliance agencies and the increased access to accurate, consistent information and resources. These goals also reflected the NJ SS mission—to assist schoolteachers and staff to reduce risk of occupational safety and health hazards in secondary school and work microenvironments in which NJ adolescents spend time.

METHODS

The NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum's trainings and evaluation form were granted exempt status for human subjects review at UMDNJ.

Trainings were held year-round in the northern, central, and southern regions of the state to provide accessibility. Participants registered for courses through the NJ SS website. Fees were charged per participant per day for each training course to cover food, registration, materials, and trainers not associated with a federal or state agency. A set price per training day across the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum was established and has increased only slightly through the years of the program ($70 in 2005 and 2006; $75 in 2007; and $80 in 2008 and 2009). Each agency or organization provided trainers for the appropriate course, ensuring consistent instruction. Several provisions were implemented to assure and maintain quality (QA/QC) within and across training courses offered statewide over time. Participating state and federal agencies used the same instructors to conduct the courses when possible. For the “OSHA 10 Plus” training, a two-day training session authorized by OSHA 10, trainers conducted the first 10 hours of the training. The other two hours of the training were conducted by NJ SS staff members who were professionals in health education and/or environmental and occupational health sciences, engineering, and industrial hygiene. Also, each course used the same printed training materials statewide. However, we continued to refine materials with newer examples to emphasize the most important concepts, with review and support from the NJ OSHA Alliance partners. Thus, materials were updated year-to-year and sometimes mid-year. These QA/QC measures depicted strengths of the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum.

NJ SS representatives attended each course to document attendance, distribute and collect evaluations, and serve as a resource. At the end of each course, participants completed anonymous evaluation forms, which were summarized and reported to course instructors by NJ SS, as well as to the NJDOE in aggregate in annual reports. Professional development certificates were provided to participants based on the completion and receipt of payment for each of five trainings. When participants completed the entire NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum, they submitted copies of course certificates to school district superintendents for endorsement.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Table 1 summarizes process data from the five trainings in the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum. We presented results by grant (contract) year for two years and the first quarter of the 2007–2008 funding period, overall and by region. For comparison, we also presented, in aggregate, process data from the variety of free, non-NJ SLE supervisory trainings for the same time period. Regional designations (central, north, south) were based on our attempt to offer each of the trainings throughout the state at easily accessible locations. The number of enrollees per training, offered throughout the year, varied by topic and by region. There were similar numbers of each of the five SLE supervisory training courses offered in each year (range 6–9 courses). However, given projected enrollment and resources available, more training courses were offered in central NJ in year two (November 2006 to October 2007) compared with year one (November 2005 to October 2006). Though these data suggested more people across the NJ SLE supervisory training courses were registered participants in year one than in year two, in both years most people completed the NJ SLE supervisory training series vs. a few individual courses, which disrupted further interpretation. Similar numbers of people in years one and two attended our free trainings, which were more frequently offered in central NJ. However, these free trainings, on average, had lower enrollment than NJ SLE supervisory trainings.

Table 1
Summary of registration and trainings offered, overall and by region, for the five trainings comprising the New Jersey SLE supervisory training curriculum for school district-approved teachers of minors (students aged 16–18 years) and to the public ...

Through January 2008, 40.2% (372 of 925) of participating teachers completed the five-course NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum; 8.8% (81 of 925) had one course left to complete. These teachers were from 231 public school districts—17 of 21 county vocational school districts, 202 local school districts, and 12 special services school districts/joint commissions—and 65 private schools for the disabled approved by the NJDOE.

Table 2 presents data from nine questions on the NJ SLE supervisory training evaluation form. Results appear as a mean score (on a scale of 1 to 4, where 1 = poor, 2 = fair, 3 = good, and 4 = excellent) or as percentages (yes/no). Overall, the NJ SLE supervisory training series was well-received. Although mean evaluation scores were high overall and by training course, participants during the two years consistently ranked the course titled “Designing and Implementing Student Training Plans” relatively higher than the other four courses.

Table 2
Summary of evaluation data from registered participants of five trainings comprising the New Jersey Structured Learning Experience supervisory training curriculum for school district-approved teachers of minors (students aged 16–18 years), November ...

Across the training courses, each session involved individual and group exercises, including short quizzes, as well as group discussions based on scenarios and/or photos. These activities were interspersed throughout the daily schedules and were self-graded as a group. The participants retained their own notes, self-graded quizzes, and thoughts recorded during group discussions facilitated by instructors; we did not conduct formal focus groups. Therefore, further rigorous analysis by a collaborating program evaluation researcher was not possible. The purpose of these activities was to promote the reinforcement of key concepts and facts from training materials, and correct interpretations of key excerpts of agency documents provided to the teachers, assuming participating teachers would refer to resources later when working with or on behalf of students.

The evaluation data and other undocumented verbal and written feedback from the five NJ SLE supervisory training courses suggested the overall curriculum had many benefits and strengths. The following representative comments from the anonymous evaluation forms suggested the content and format of the training courses in the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum were both appropriate and well-framed during presentations, group exercises, and discussions (e.g., case studies and question-and-answer periods):

  • “The instructors understood why we were there for the training and addressed those needs appropriately.”
  • “The real-life examples and handouts were helpful… gave ideas to use for students.”
  • “[This training] gave a lot of useful information not only to use with my students, but for myself and my family.”
  • “This training was most beneficial to prepare me with placing students in SLE.”
  • “I will be much more confident should my district choose me to facilitate SLE. I feel more knowledgeable about placing students in work environments, contacting businesses, and completing paperwork with Core Curriculum Content areas (standards).”

In addition, participants reported the following benefits:

  • Course registration online was an easy process.
  • They valued the skills and experience of presenters.
  • They valued the opportunities to network with their fellow professionals, including representatives from state and federal agencies.

Furthermore, participants offered suggestions for improving future trainings. These constructive criticisms, which we have already acted on to improve the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum and better understand the student populations they serve, included:

  • Increase the relevancy of the materials and examples to the collective experiences of the teachers and the types of students they serve
  • Incorporate more hands-on activities
  • Provide more handouts and resources at the trainings
  • Increase the geographic coverage of the training sites

Finally, based on these comments, we identified specific opportunities for potential future improvements to make to the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum, and NJ SS, with the support of the NJ OSHA Alliance. For example, we must increase provision of materials and examples highly relevant to teachers of students with special needs. There is also an opportunity to collect information over time on the numbers of teachers (and numbers of students of trained teachers) who are then trained on occupational safety and health principles by teachers who completed the two-day “OSHA 10 Plus” course. With planning and collaboration facilitated by the NJ OSHA Alliance, these valuable data appear obtainable but beyond the scope of the evaluation rubric currently utilized.

CONCLUSIONS

The NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum, due to the NJ OSHA Alliance, was successful in its initial years in training many teachers in occupational safety and health issues. We plan to continue to offer multiple opportunities throughout NJ year-round for teachers to complete the SLE supervisory training curriculum at an affordable cost. Moreover, in collaboration with the NJ OSHA Alliance, we will continue to enhance the NJ SS website's available resources. We will strive to further enhance, and gain more valuable data on participants from, the online registration process for paid and free NJ SLE supervisory training courses. In addition, in 2007–2008, NJ SS, in collaboration with the NJ OSHA Alliance and the NJDOE, began to facilitate the start of the teacher-based “train-the-trainer” courses. The goal is to conduct parts of the NJ SLE supervisory training series as in-service trainings (in particular “OSHA 10 Plus” and “Designing and Implementing Student Training Plans”) in schools throughout NJ to further increase the numbers of teachers trained and build sustainability. In conclusion, we hope the NJ SLE supervisory training curriculum experience to date can inform other states that may adopt similar strategies or regulations to ensure the health and safety of minors who are engaged in school-related work experiences.

figure 10_ShendellFigureU1

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Office of Career and Technical Education, for funding the New Jersey Safe Schools (NJ SS) Program (“Occupational Education and Safety and Health Training and Standards Updating” to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Public Health) as well as their staff for providing their knowledge and expertise during the development and final revision of this article. The authors acknowledge the efforts of NJ SS staff members Pat Billman, Fran Colditz, Kerry Ann Phang, Alexandra Catherine Hayes Nowakowski, Maryann Wozniak, and Samuel Annor for their part in the organization, registration, preparation, and conduct of the free and paid trainings offered throughout New Jersey, as well as other aspects of this project. Finally, the authors thank the New Jersey Occupational Safety and Health Administration Alliance members for their support to promote the health and safety of minors.

Footnotes

This article does not constitute an endorsement of authors or organizations by the NJDOE. The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the NJDOE.

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