Monday, August 1, 2016

Best Practices and Issues: Back to School Edition

By Kathy Young, Principal and COO

Hard to believe, but students around the country will be heading back to school soon. In many communities, teachers and administrators are already deep into their planning work and preparing for the coming academic year. To celebrate this annual transition, we’re highlighting a few best practices and issues as we reflect on the critical connection between education and economic development.

In a blog post earlier this year, I shared information about a good resource for hands-on learning at the elementary school level, sponsored by Junior Achievement (JA), an organization that has been around for 97 years and has a global reach. Later in the spring I also participated in the “JA Day” at my daughter’s school, which was similar to the program described here. The morning session provided students with the opportunity to learn key business and economic concepts from business community volunteers (who are also often parents). JA provides all of the materials (featured in the photo below), but the volunteers are empowered to deliver the curriculum directly, with only classroom management support from the teacher. 

The experience is rewarding for volunteers and a treat for the students. Teachers have some time to spend on planning, and the school strengthens its relationship with the community. And for those of us with no teaching experience, working with a class of 20 elementary school students was an intense experience. Many schools have guest reader or Principal for a Day programs – which help connect students to business representatives and role models. Those programs give participants a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities that come with public education as well. But if you’d really like to understand the job of a teacher, you literally need to walk a mile in their shoes. Four hours in the classroom only scratches the surface of course, but if you would like to help your community leaders understand some of the educational issues in your schools, developing a partnership with JA might start some great conversations.

One of our client communities in Alabama (Decatur-Morgan County) has been having some fascinating dialogues about education and workforce training for more than a decade, thanks to the launch of the Summer Welding & Electrical Technology (SWeETy) Camp for 9th – 12th grade young ladies from local schools. Hosted by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and education partners, the camp’s goal is to offer young women an opportunity to learn hands-on about technical skills that can lead to high-paying, satisfying careers in high growth industries. 

Not far away, in Carroll County, Georgia, one of the community’s business leaders, Southwire, developed the cooperative 12 for Life program with the school system in 2007. The program is intended to provide “students a place where they can mix classroom time with time on the floor at a real manufacturing plant, gaining an education, a paycheck, key work and life skills, and the all-important hope—for a diploma, for success in the workplace, and for a better life.” 12 for Life has received national media attention and continues to maintain a focused approach to the initial goals of 2007.

My colleague, Ranada Robinson has shared many other best practices and updates from education field, including takeaways from the 2015 Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) Workforce Week Conference, where she presented this past March, and a webinar that shared research regarding school takeovers by state governments. Stay tuned for more updates about education best practices, trends, and issues that could impact your community.

As August beings, we wish the best to our communities as they transition back into the school year, and look forward to featuring some of the businesses and community leaders that are making education a priority and strengthening the economic and workforce development partnerships that are vital to success.