first published Business Digest, July 1997

Business/Education Links

by Edna Tenney

Over the last couple of years an increasing number of programs or projects, old and new, involving all kinds of educational, governmental, and/or business groups have been including the phrase “school-to-work” in reports and press releases. From a distance the phrase appears to be a catch-all for a lot of unrelated efforts, all reacting to widely publicized concerns about education.

A closer look points to a huge coordinating effort sparked by the passage of the National School-to-Work Opportunities Act by Congress. The act provides federal funds for states to coordinate the efforts of government, education and business people in an on-going effort to improve the way schools and communities prepare young people for future work, education and life.

The funds are administered and distributed by the governor’s office, and the effort is overseen by the Vermont Human Resources Investment Council, a group appointed by the governor that includes representatives from the governor’s office, the Legislature, various government departments and business people.

The first two years of the initiative have resulted in the establishment of 14 regional groups, called “partnerships,” and a statewide partnership, administered by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce Business-Education Partnership (VCCBEP). The VCCBEP is an organization registered separately from the Vermont state chamber as a 501c3 non-profit, established four years ago for “building business and education partnerships to support school reform.”

The description of VCCBEP’s part in the School-to-Work Initiative from its website allows a glimpse of the staggering number of meetings, reports, memos, phone calls and voice- mail messages required to make this happen.

“VCCBEP’s partnership support is a collaborative effort throughout the state, including work as a lead partner with the Governor’s School-to-Work Initiative. Our statewide support includes other collaborative efforts with VISMT, Vermont Math Coalition, AIV, Vermont Business Round Table, Vermont School Boards, Vermont Association of Business and Industry Rehabilitation, Vermont State Colleges, Adult Basic Education, BEST, DET and Department of Education, as well as others.”

And, of course, VCCBEP works with the 14 regional school-to-work partnerships around the state. The Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce is providing the same organizational leadership for Chittenden County, under the title “Lake Champlain School-to- Work Collaborative.” During the 1995-1996 school year the collaborative implemented 18 mini-grant projects in local schools, some now extended into the second year, that include job shadowing, mentoring, students going out to area businesses, and business people working in area schools. At the Lawrence K. Barnes School in Burlington and Central School in South Burlington, fourth- and fifth-graders are working with staff from Copytek/Boise Cascade to organize and run a school store — a program now in its second year. A program at the Burlington Technical Center works with out-of-school youth, ages 16 to 21, to help obtain technical skills or GEDs through a career association, a “corporate structure” involving the youth and area business people to provide internships, shadowing and paid employment.

These kinds of business-education relationships have occurred before, but there is now an orchestrated effort to increase the numbers, assess the value of programs, and see that the projects build on each other. The School-to-Work Initiative includes implementing programs for every age and grade level in school and beyond and for every ability level.

Another example of the work of the School-to-Work Collaborative, being implemented by both groups (VCCBEP and LCRCC, for alphabet lovers) is the establishment of a Manufacturing Technology Certification Program, a series of skill standards and courses leading to a certification in manufacturing for entry level and technician positions.

The program, overseen by GBIC, has involved a group of manufacturers and education/training providers working for the last year on developing the curriculum, which will begin in September.

Trinity College of Vermont
Trinity College has established the Trinity Institute for Women and Girls in Science, Math and Technology to promote effective math, technology and science education for women and girls. The college has assembled partners from businesses and other educational institutions — IDX Systems Corp., Nynex, Burlington schools, and Community College of Vermont — and national foundations. Dr. Honorée Fleming, chair of Trinity’s department of natural sciences and math, is the institute’s director.

The institute will sponsor a comprehensive and systematic set of initiatives spanning the middle-school years through professional life, building on existing programs in the state and the nation. It will provide educational curricula, mentoring relationships and internships, workshops and courses for teachers; and specially designed activities to ensure that girls and women are encouraged to pursue their interests in science, mathematics or technology.

The program targets three groups of young women — those interested in majoring in mathematics or science, those planning to be elementary or secondary teachers, and those who would take more science and/or math courses if they were convinced the courses are relevant to their futures.

Referring to the last two groups, Fleming cites a National Science Foundation report that 95 percent of the U.S. population is scientifically illiterate. “We train 5 percent of our population very well,” Fleming says, “but much of the science curriculum is geared to students who know that they want to become scientists. We don’t do well with those who plan to become teachers, historians, lawyers — but they certainly could use the knowledge.”

Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center
The 2-year-old Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center recently installed a satellite downlink at Vermont Heating and Ventilating/Fab-Tech in Colchester to broadcast live, interactive, monthly programs on manufacturing issues from the National Technological University. The Colchester location joins similar facilities at the Barre Granite Association, Barre; EHV Weidmann, St. Johnsbury; and UVM extension centers in Rutland and Brattleboro.

Paul Demers, VMEC field engineer for the Burlington area, says Vermont Heating was chosen “because they have a strong commitment to education, and a manufacturing location is comfortable for other manufacturers. Besides,” he adds, “a classroom at UVM, for instance, has no parking!”

A five-part series on “lean manufacturing,” featuring national experts, will begin in July, running once a month until November. The programs run from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. and include lunch. Video rental is available for people unable to attend. For more information, call VMEC: 660-2737.

Not Nick at Night, NECI@NITE
NECI@NITE is the catchy name of a new continuing education program from the New England Culinary Institute. The institute is offering a series of professional development and personal enrichment courses, including subjects like Culinary Spanish or French and Food and Words: Exploring Opportunities in Food Writing. The one credit courses are offered in the evening at the Essex and Montpelier locations for $125.

Vermont Business Roundtable Public School Medallion
Since its inception in 1987 the Vermont Business Roundtable, composed of 120 business owners and managers from around the state, has studied and made recommendations on statewide public policy issues with the intent of sustaining a sound state economy and preserving Vermont’s quality of life.

In 1993, to encourage excellence in Vermont education, the roundtable established the public school medallion, which is awarded annually to the public school that best meets four criteria: leadership in supporting systemic changes that significantly enhance the educational experience of students; challenging goals and objectives that demonstrate the willingness to implement these changes; significant measurable results in student learning and achievement; and commitment to the state education objectives, including high standards, comprehensive assessment, and public accountability.

This year’s public school medallion went to Rutland High School for its innovation and excellence in school reform efforts, specifically for its program called the Jan Plan. The plan offers a variety of learning experiences through college-style enrichment classes; remedial classes that serve as a “summer school in January” to help failing students get back on track for the second semester; and volunteer community service experiences and supervised independent study projects that provide “school-to-work transition” career exploration along with volunteer community service.

The medallion was presented in a ceremony at the school attended by the school community, roundtable members, Gov. Howard Dean and Marc Hull, state education commissioner. The award includes a $5,000 grant and a watercolor rendering of a traditional Vermont schoolhouse by Lydia Pellen Wisloski.