Cathy Myers, school improvement specialist at Northwest Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency, proposed the concept first and acted as a liaison between the school system and the businesses.
Myers said the plan originally included only Zep but Georgia Power and Shaw heard about the program and wanted to join. The principle intent of the externship was to connect local industry with the educators who are preparing tomorrow’s workforce. The businesses shared important skills necessary to success in the working world that may be overlooked in education.
Christy Ridley, sixth-grade math teacher at Adairsville Middle School, said, “One thing the people I worked with during my week at Plant Bowen kept reiterating was the importance of work ethic. They need people who come to work and work hard while they are there.”
Robin Morrow, Title 1 math teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School, was surprised by the constant use of some math concepts like angles in a workforce setting. She completed her externship in the operations department at Georgia Power June 23-27.
“I expected to go in and see how they work. I didn’t expect to walk away with such a broader understanding of opportunities for our students,” Morrow said.
All the teachers who participated in the Georgia Power cohort were math teachers. Janet Queen, Georgia Power Company project relocation coordinator, said she intentionally filled the group with math teachers because one of the biggest stumbling blocks potential employees have with the organization is the inability to pass the math entrance exam, which has a 33 percent pass rate among potential employees.
Kristin Wolfe, fourth-grade math teacher at Euharlee Elementary School, learned some life-skills that she is determined to integrate into her teaching.
“I thought I would be tagging along behind someone for the week. I was hoping to find a way to reach unmotivated students or maybe I could see some opportunities for jobs that they might think were cool, but I went into connecting so much more for myself with what skills we may be missing out on teaching kids,” she said. “I want to implement more hands-on because that was something I kept hearing over and over throughout the week — people are missing hands-on skills.
“They also use fractions and decimals continuously, which is one of my fourth-grade standards. They told me one problem they have is people not knowing how to use a tape measure, yard stick, things like that. It made me realize I do not use rulers enough in my class. It is one of things that gets lost in all the requirements we have to teach. It is easier to print out a ruler on their worksheet page, but from now on I am going to make sure they are using an actual ruler. These life skills are so often lost in the mix of trying to teach all the things necessary for the test.”
Ridley plans to use the Georgia Power’s pre-employment test to answer that ever present question from students: “When are we every going to use this?”
“I am thrilled to get back to class and show my students the entrance test we had to take. It was full of math we teach. I can’t wait to show them the concepts we are learning are applicable outside the classroom. You have to know how to do this to get a job at Georgia Power.”
Vicki Gaither, of Woodland High School, plans to include more of the 21st Century work skills in her lessons. “I teach honors kids, so their math abilities are already where they need to be to go work at Georgia Power. My focus will be more other important skills — working together in groups, communicating with each other and other groups, collaboration between other departments — that is something most students don’t really do well. They want to work on their particular problem by themselves.”
Jennifer Stanfield, kindergarten teacher at Cloverleaf Elementary School, reconsidered her previous beliefs regarding college after working in the materials department of Georgia Power.
“They pay to send their employees to school; they have excellent training programs,” Stanfield said. “People who pursue this come out of training, are ready to start an excellent job and do not have any loans to repay. These jobs are great opportunities for some students who are smart but just are not interested in college.
“The big push from teachers and parents is that kids must go to college. I realize now that this a mistake and there are viable, good-paying jobs right here in our community that do not require a four-year degree.”