Hancock County is one of 62 counties in Indiana that has created a College Success Coalition. Administered by the Commission for Higher Education and Learn More Indiana, these coalitions are designed to help counties create plans for improving high school and college graduation rates as well as employment opportunities in their communities through certifications and job training.
Ideally, the coalitions build partnerships among schools, government agencies and community businesses to meet graduation rate and employment goals.
I have been a member of our coalition since its beginning and have enjoyed developing networks that benefit our students, but after each meeting I leave with a sense of frustration.
On paper, our coalition looks good. If you review the list of companies and agencies listed as members, you would think we have a great distribution of manufacturers, businesses, schools and government officials engaged in important discussions about the future of Hancock County.
In reality, however, only about 10 to 12 of these organizations take the time to attend meetings and actively participate in moving Hancock County forward in our educational and employment goals — and most of those represented are educational agencies.
One of the biggest events the coalition sponsors is Manufacturing Day in October. This experience is designed to get high school freshmen into Hancock County factories, businesses and agriculture experiences to see what real careers look like today in our community. We then try to tie educational opportunities to what they have seen so they know how to plan the next four years of school.
Every year, Retta Livengood, a coalition member and president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of Commerce, begs companies, businesses and factories to take groups of students for 20- to 30-minute tours of their facilities one morning. And, every year, we’ve ended up short of the number of sites we need to share this opportunity with students from every school corporation.
I know the concerns the businesses have when asked to participate.
They wonder if it will be safe and if the students will behave. They are hesitant to have an interruption to half of their work day by providing the tours and discussions.
They are also not convinced this activity will make a difference to the students in the long run.
What we have discovered, though, is that both the businesses who choose to participate and the students who tour learn great things about each other.
For example, our students realize that today’s factories are clean and digitally driven, while the company representatives notice our students are engaged and willing to listen about career pathways from people in the field.
In fact, our students are more likely to believe what they learn from the tours than what we share with them at school. Our teachers who chaperone are impressed not only by the facilities Greenfield companies have to offer but also by what opportunities are out there for any type of student who is willing to learn a skill, trade or profession.
This year, I am hoping that Hancock County’s businesses will agree to not only open their doors to our high school freshmen for one morning in October but also realize that continuing to have educational and employment discussions as active and vibrant coalition members will make all of us better in the long run.
It’s time that the partnerships we have on paper become a reality for our community so we can move forward together to reach our common goals — better graduation rates and a more prepared workforce for our local businesses.
Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.