CLEVELAND, Tenn. (Aug. 26, 2008)—Textbooks, whiteboards and rows of desks gave way to a 50-pound block of shortening, fabric, machine parts and water meters during summer school this year. However, neither the students nor the classrooms were typical.
Instead, eight of the community’s finest educators invested part of their summer break to enrich their teaching by becoming learners in a business/industry environment.
Eight area businesses opened their doors to these teachers as part of the 10th annual Teachers Academy, a program of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce.
Teachers Academy establishes stronger partnerships between business and education to help educators identify and incorporate necessary skill training and understanding of business/workforce realities into school curriculum.
“To date, 85 teachers from kindergarten through post-secondary education have participated in this four-week program,” Lisa Pickel, the Chamber’s director of existing industry programs, said. The Chamber launched Teachers Academy10 years ago as a response to requests from industry leaders to better prepare students for the workplace.
“Many teachers go from being a student in a classroom to being a teacher in a classroom without any exposure to the business/industry workforce,” Pickel explained. “Teachers Academy is bringing workforce realities back to the classroom.”
She continued, “Since many of our businesses are now lean, this also gives them an opportunity to have a fresh set of eyes for a problem or an extra set of hands to help with a project for a modest price tag.”
Participating teachers receive a stipend from their respective business.
In a recent wrap-up session, teachers and business representatives gathered to talk about highlights of the experience.
“All of the teachers reported that they will take back to their students the need for good communication skills, the ability to work as a team, basic math skills and the importance of reading,” Pickel noted. “Students also need problem solving, critical thinking and time management skills. The teachers also addressed the need for integrity and a strong work ethic.”
Adam Kirkpatrick, who teaches math at Lake Forest Middle School, spent his Academy experience at United Knitting, a newcomer to the Teachers Academy program. Kirkpatrick noted that although his father worked in the textile industry with Buster Brown, he didn’t realize “how much goes into the clothes we wear.” He utilized his math skills in United Knitting’s Quality Control division where accuracy is necessary, finding averages, concentrating on lengths and widths, weighing fabrics and recording measurements to make sure those fabrics met standards.
Wayne Crank, director of quality systems, noted, “Adam’s personality, education and background minimized his learning curve and made him a good fit for United Knitting.”
Flowers Bakery was also a first-time participant in the Teachers Academy program. John Mehling, reading instructor at Walker Valley High School, completed a vital safety project for the local bakery. As part of his industry experience, Mehling arranged and updated Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), making it easier for employees to find information for their particular area of operation and ultimately ensure safety.
Mehling plans to incorporate into his lesson plans this year the importance of reading percentages and how safety plays into many jobs. He will also stress the necessity of being able to read safety sheets, computations and measurements.
Joan Dalton, human resources director for Flowers Bakery, said the Teachers Academy program was a good experience, particularly since they needed someone with an education background for a short period. She also appreciated the “takeaway” value since Mehling’s industry experience will affect his classroom.
Abigail Carter, IT instructor at Cleveland State Community College, spent four weeks at AbitibiBowater this summer performing computer-based training for employees. Specifically, she trained managers with little experience in spreadsheets and Excel functions. She also taught Access to employees in a classroom setting where they could use their own computer and work at their own pace. Abigail, who is working on her Ph.D. in computer information systems, is interested in trends in technology and its impact on education, especially distance learning, so her Teachers Academy assignment was a good fit.
Carrie Dittrich, human resources manager, said during an onsite visit to observe Carter, “I can’t tell you enough how happy we are to have Abby.”
Alan Bivens returned to Arch Chemicals Inc. for a second Teachers Academy assignment. Bivens, who teaches technology education at Walker Valley High School, firmly believes in the Teachers Academy program in that it has provided valuable relationships for him as a classroom teacher.
“It takes a village to teach a child,” he said, noting that Arch employees have invited him to bring students to the plant for various programs since his first Teachers Academy experience. Bivens worked specifically on hundreds of Lockout/Tagout procedures to ensure they meet OSHA standards. He also wrote procedures that are placed on a shared computer server, giving access to every employee and eliminating the need for printed manuals.
Both Charlie Caudill, safety manager, and Janice Baker, human resources supervisor, noted that their teacher’s contributions to Arch allowed the company to focus attention on specific areas of priority. Bivens looks forward to incorporating safety procedures learned into his technology lesson plans this year.
Toby Long teaches English as a second language for Bradley County Schools. This high-energy educator was responsible for three projects at Eaton Hydraulics this summer to fulfill goals set by human resources manager Adam Moffat. Those projects included developing a training module for new hires focused on active learning; diversifying the hiring pool through development of a work study program with area high schools, job postings at the multicultural center, and working with adult education English language learners; and revising job postings that detail the benefits of working for Eaton and the positive image of the community.
Long noted particularly that the industry experience has helped her relate school tasks to work skills or students that may not go on to college or that may need to go at a slower pace.
“There’s a huge community out there that we’re not reaching,” Moffett said about the need to tap into new hiring pools. “Teachers Academy allowed us to achieve some goals we had but didn’t have the human resources to do. It allowed us to think outside the box.”
Dean Anderson teaches criminal justice at Walker Valley High School. During his Teachers Academy commitment at Cleveland Utilities, he conducted energy audits of water and electric usage in randomly selected business and residential areas. Once the audits were completed, Anderson developed a form that Cleveland Utilities can use to determine what information is necessary for an audit and to input the data he gathered this summer.
Cleveland Utilities’ Paula Wills, customer service and billing manager, and John Miles, supervisor of customer services, stressed that Dean provided the skilled labor to begin an audit process they normally wouldn’t have the staff to do.
According to Miles, “Dean served as a good representative of Cleveland Utilities and was very professional. He did an outstanding job, and his commitment is very commendable.”
Anderson has already incorporated meter reading and the importance of accuracy in his lesson plans for his criminal justice students and in conjunction with a math instructor at Walker Valley.
Rob Varner teaches mathematics at Walker Valley High School. During his “summer school” experience at Olin Corporation, he worked with maintenance manager Mark Haston and engineers to improve their processes, which included looking for trends in maintenance costs and creating spreadsheets from data gathered over time to look at variations in costs.
Chris Carpenter, Olin’s human resources manager, said Varner’s contribution will benefit Olin’s maintenance department, which “keeps the place going,” in that they will continue to use the Excel spreadsheets and charts to track usage in the maintenance department.
Varner plans to incorporate into his math classes the importance of correct information and applying the information into Excel charts to track usage. His lesson plans will also include aspects of “real world of work application.”
Jennifer Miles-Brown, also from Walker Valley, teaches computer aided design and was a “perfect fit” for Cleveland Tubing. With no blueprints available, the local industry needed someone to detail the instructions on dissembling and reassembling four pieces of machinery. Miles-Brown worked with engineers to “reverse engineer” the equipment and write procedures. Now that school has started, she plans to explain to students the importance of reverse engineering in the business world. She will also incorporate lessons on safety and how one person’s thoroughness affects the safety of others.
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