The message was loud and clear: The Elkin City Schools wants to grow partnerships with area businesses to give students a better chance at gaining experience and educating them, in addition to helping teachers learn outside the classroom.
A number of area business leaders met for a Lunch and Learn hosted by the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce and Elkin City Schools Friday at the Surry Community College Elkin Center.
The idea behind the event, which was free for chamber members and included lunch catered by Mazzini’s, was to share with the business community what is happening in the school system and gain feedback from the business leaders on what the schools can do to better educate students for what businesses need and find ways that businesses can partner with the schools.
The basis of the Lunch and Learn was to share information on the school system’s new initiative, STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics), and the progress made at this point in implementation, which is a three-year process of which the schools are completing their first nine weeks.
When the school system was exploring a transition to focus on STEM or STEAM, the first doesn’t include the Arts focus of language arts, social studies and fine arts that the latter does, the teachers visited a school in Winston-Salem already using the program. “They came back from visiting Winston-Salem so excited,” said Pam Colbert, principal of Elkin Middle School.
The thought process behind STEAM is to give the students a more hands-on approach to problem solving, while emphasizing collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking, Colbert and other school officials explained.
“We want them to revisit what they’ve done to build on it and get feedback on it, and to redesign what they’ve done based on feedback,” Colbert said, explaining that part of that feedback could come from business members.
“We say to kids, ‘Here’s the problem, how are we going to fix it,’” said Elkin Elementary School Principal Anthony Davis.
Colbert was recognized with using this concept from the beginning. When she was moved into a new office, which had formerly served as a closet, she had students design ideas of how she should organize her room, and then from those designs she chose the one that would best work for her.
Students have worked with the Elkin Recreation Center on ideas to help share sports with area kids. The students told rec center officials that the sign advertising the sports has always been in the same place, so they never pay much attention to it. Their solution was to use a mobile sign to get people’s attention.
While STEAM has first been implemented in grades fourth through eighth, the plan is to work toward implementing it in the three-year period in grades prekindergarten through 12th. “We will be the first in the nation to have pre-k through 12 implemented if we can expand it to all grades,” Colbert said.
Davis said the school system wants to know what businesses need to “make our relationship truly solid.” That includes learning from businesses in earlier discussions that students need to come out of school with the soft skills like being on time and doing a job to the best of their ability not just to draw a pay check.
“We need our students to be prepared,” Colbert said.
“We want you to be integrated in our schools,” said Davis to the business leaders. “We want your expertise in the schools.”
And the partnership with area businesses already has begun. Twenty students are participating in a cohort which will conclude in December. The cohort has given students the opportunity to visit local businesses to see what skills are needed there.
Elkin City Schools started three years ago implementing the Career Readiness Certificate, something many companies look for in employees they are hiring. “We were ahead of the state in implementing the Career Readiness Certification,” said Patsy Burgess, career development coordinator for the school system.
“Last year we were first in the state and the year before we were second in the number of students receiving silver or above,” Burgess reported. “We (the school system) have lots of needs, but we would hope we are aligned with your needs.”
Denise Brown and Sam Brim with Surry Community College said they are focusing on making sure the county, including Elkin City Schools, is producing a workforce that is in tune with the growing advanced manufacturing needs in the area.
“We want to plant the see so as they graduate, we can put them in this advanced manufacturing,” said Brim.
“We’re having to do retraining of current employees to meet (the industries’) needs and offer the basics of what you’re doing right here (with STEAM),” he said. “We have industries coming to us that are saying we want people with technical experience who can work on these machines. We need people with two-year engineering technician degrees starting at $40,000.”
“We want you to feel like you can come to us and say this is what I can do (for the city schools’ students), and we want to come see you,” Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe told those attending. “Our vision is next summer to offer for kids to come to school and take courses at no charge on engineering and (other fields).
“In this room is true representation of what we are — we’re big businesses, we’re medium businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs,” he said. “Just getting a four-year degree with no skills in mind to what you want to do is not enough anymore. Kids need to know how to start a business and be successful.
“I want an economy in this community that when those kids who go off to get four- or six-year degrees are 28 and ready to have kids and move back, they have jobs that can pay their salary to support their families,” Bledsoe said.
Reach Wendy Byerly Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 835-1513.