Editor’s note: This is the second of a series of stories which will be published over the next several months about the role of the Workforce Partnership of Shelby County.
SIDNEY — Educating Shelby County’s students on the job opportunities within the county is the goal of the Workforce Partnership of Shelby County. The consortium of 40 businesses are working hand-in-hand with schools in the county to accomplish this goal.
The program started at Sidney High School, expanded into Sidney Middle School and is now is several Shelby County schools.
“Our long term goals are to be represented in every Shelby County School. We are making some progress with this,” said Mick Given, Ferguson Construction president. “However the goal continues to stay focused on exposing the students to wonderful Shelby County careers and educate them on what it takes to be employable.”
“Long-term, WP desires to see Shelby County students graduate and ready to be ‘employable.’ Whether they enter the workforce directly, complete an apprenticeship/certification program, or attend college … the goal is that they have been exposed to the Shelby County careers and they choose to work and live in Shelby County as productive citizens,” said Deb McDermott, Shelby County Workforce Partnership director.
The team of Sidney City Schools Curriculum Coordinator Brooke Gessler, and Workforce Academy teachers Sharon Maurice and Stephanie Davis work together for the benefit of the SHS students. Maurice and Davis have been with the program for four years. The trio answered questions about the program jointly.
“Courses in Workforce serve as electives for students,” they said, “which help them meet their Sidney City Schools graduation requirement of 21 credits.”
The high school offers four courses in the program that are both semester and year-long in length. At Sidney Middle School, courses in the seventh- and eighth-grade are run on a nine-week rotation, which allows all students except those who take two periods of music the change to participate in the program.
Adding the course to the high school curriculum was two-fold — it provided a new elective and and formed a deeper working relationship with businesses and industries in the county.
“Further cultivating a partnership with local businesses should be a goal for school systems,” they said. “So, when the opportunity to work with our businesses presented itself in the form of Workforce Partnership of Shelby County, SCS welcomed it with open arms and minds. There is a definitive outcome for SCS and local businesses, and that is to prepare students to be gainfully employed community members. Ideally, this employment is right here in Shelby County.”
The three women said the students have had the opportunity to learn more about the local job market.
“Among the benefit to students are a greater understanding of important skills needed for employment, regardless of occupation; greater awareness of occupations in Shelby County deserving students’ exploration; courses that place students in positions to be more intentional in thinking about their future as a result of the curriculum; and affording students opportunities to meet local business leaders through job shadowing,” they said. “Students are able to experience real-world situations while starting to build networks and make contacts.”
The addition of the program, they said, has sparked the students’ interest in learning “outside the box” of a normal classroom.
“It has sparked more student interest and made them actively think about goal-setting for their future. Students are forced to consider their next steps after graduation and whether to purse post-secondary education or move directly into the workforce, which could offer chances to further their education,” they said.
“Manufacturing, logistics and parts suppliers, skilled trades, health services, non-profit agencies, education, representatives of government, food services, and manufacturing services have all been represented by partners who have come into the classrooms and speak or opened up their doors for students to take tours of their facilities,” they said of the classroom opportunities offered the Workforce Academy students.
The trio sees the program growing as the partnership between the school and businesses takes on new opportunities.
“The possibilities and opportunities are limitless. In further developing the program in our district, we can expect growth through reflection of practices. We see growth coming in the form of expanded internships for students,” they said. “There are increased opportunities for collaboration with businesses in looking to invite local WF partners into the classroom to deliver lessons. SCS and Workforce Partnership of Shelby County are also looking for creative ways to offer internships to students who are under the age of 18. This would allow more time for students to have job-embedded experiences.”
They said the high school is always open to new ideas from local businesses.
“Our program is always open to business’ new ideas, projects connecting students to the community, and ways to bring real-world application to our students. We have found such value in our collaboration with WF partners. And, we believe this program, through classroom visits and communication with educators, has given our partners more first-hand experience with the challenges educators face today. As for our students, they have a greater appreciation of local businesses now more than before,” they said.
The SMS program is taught by Renee Davis, who is in her fourth year with the program. Davis said she has around 115 new students each nine weeks in the program. The class is mandatory for all seventh- and eighth-grade students, except those who are in music.
“The benefits from the Workforce Partnership are extensive. As this program is a privately funded program through the approximately 40 Sidney and Shelby County businesses, they have provided us unique opportunities including the following: uniquely decorate and fun classrooms that are designed to have a more relaxed environment distinctly different from a traditional classroom, funds for special incentive programs for students, knowledge resources including guest speakers, field trips, advanced technology, the Career Expo held at the Shelby County Fairgrounds and more,” said Davis.
She said the program has provided the middle school students with an insight of what companies are located in Sidney.
“A lot of our students had no idea who or what these companies were, even though they are literally located in our hometown,” said Davis. “So having the opportunity to share with them opportunities to research and learn more about them has been very eye opening for them. My middle school students initially think I’m crazy to think that they should even worry about a career at this point in their lives, however, as they progress through the class, it sinks in.
“Seventh-graders will be scheduling for their freshman level high school classes in just a year, eighth-graders sooner. So to hit home the importance of at least thinking of a career pathway is extremely beneficial to them,” she said. “Are they a college-bound student? Are they an Upper Valley Career Center student? Are they a military-bound student? Or, are they a student who just wants to graduate and go into the workforce?
“Knowing the answer to that question, helps me help them connect with all of the resources available through our partner companies and to match them up with options at Sidney High School. It is literally a life-changing program for most students, if they allow it to be,” Davis said.
The middle school program, said Davis, is slightly different than the high school one when it comes to having guest speakers in the classroom.
“My guest speakers at Sidney Middle School have been pretty limited and that’s partly by design,” she said. “We want to distinguish the difference between the middle school program and the high school programs so that we’re not duplicating programs.
“However, Officer Mike McRill with the Sidney Police Department comes and speaks with each of my eighth-grade classes about the effects of social media on employment opportunities. Our kids are entrenched in social media, however, they may not understand the potential opportunities and consequences of their posts in the future. Officer McRill is able to get them to think about the pros and cons.
“Last year, Sidney High School alumni Tim Adams who is a reliability engineer with NASA spoke to all of my students about growing up in Sidney and where life took him from there. It was good for my students to hear the success story about small-town boy who did big things. They too could be the next Sidney success story,” she said.
Davis, who is a graduate of Bowling Green State University, worked in the corporate world for 25 years before joining the middle school program.
“I am so blessed to be a part of this amazing, unique program that can so positively impact my students, my community, my school district and me,” said Davis.
With the success the program has seen in Sidney City Schools, the Workforce Partnership continues to branch out into the county schools.
“The Workforce Partnership’s mission is to align the workforce and education systems to meet the skills needs of local businesses. The Workforce Partnership serves as a resource to the schools, by representing our business Partners and coordinating activities within the classroom that educate Shelby County students about local careers,” said McDermott.
The Sidney program began during the 2014-15 school year. In the 2015-16 school year, Fort Loramie joined the program. During the third year of the program, 2016-17, Jackson Center added Workforce English to their curriculum. This school year, Jackson Center Middle School added a careers program and did Anna Middle School for its eighth-grade students.
“This program was organized to fit the state of Ohio’s requirement to provide Career Counseling to all students in our district,” said Fort Loramie Local Schools counselor Katie Francis. “Upon looking at our current career activities done throughout the district, we noticed a gap from the elementary school to the high school. To bridge this gap, we felt it was appropriate to implement this program with our eighth-graders.”
The instructor for the program is Shelly Barhorst, who has all eighth-grade students in the course, which is taught for the full year.
“We started the program three years ago to give our students’ the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the different career paths that are available. We also wanted to teach them about the different opportunities that are available right here in Shelby County.”
The current freshmen and sophomores at Fort Loramie, said Barhorst, are “alumni” of the program.
“My students have learned about the different businesses that are affiliated with Workforce Partnership. They have participated in events with the partners such as the Career Exploration Day at the fairgrounds. said Barhorst. “We also invite speakers from the different companies to come into our classroom to teach the students more about their companies. The students are getting the chance to think about what they possibly would like to do in the future as a career. This then allows them to decide what classes they will participate in once they are freshman. They have the opportunity to choose CCP classes, attend Upper Valley Career Center, or take classes at Fort Loramie High School. Knowing what career path they may want to pursue, this allows the student to not waste their time or money because they are more prepared.”
Barhorst said the program has taught the students about the different options they have when entering the workforce or continuing their education after graduation.
“At the beginning of the year, most of the students have not heard of many of the partners. By the end of the first nine weeks, they know every name and what that company does. When the speakers come in and share their information, the students learn even more about the opportunities that are available here in Shelby County. There used to be a mindset that all kids “have to” go to college. I like that the Workforce Partnership shows the students that there are excellent job opportunities available that may not need require a four year degree and will help them become successful in the future,” said Barhorst.
Barhorst said her students have toured Wayne Trail’s facility in Fort Loramie and plan to visit other businesses this school year.
” I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Workforce Partners the past three years. Everyone is very helpful and it is such a positive experience for all involved. I enjoy my job and it is my passion to help guide my students in the right direction and assist them in figuring out their future. I think the Workforce Partnership is a blessing for my students and for me as a teacher,” said Barhorst.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.