Transforming Business Engagement at School, Part One

Guest post by Tommy T. Welch

One of the main functions we perform in education is preparing our students for entering the workforce. But how do we know if we are succeeding? Traditional assessments tend to focus on achievement up to high school graduation but not after. There are numerous articles and studies out there that explore how curricula need to change to equip students with the skills necessary for 21st-century jobs. At Meadowcreek High School, we have taken a slightly different approach by partnering directly with local and national businesses to give students hands-on experience through paid internships. By approaching businesses as authentic knowledge partners rather than just taxpayers, donors, or sponsors, we have enlisted their expertise and experience in the process of preparing our students for productive careers and lifelong learning.

Creating Paid Internships and a Workforce Pipeline

Through our partnerships with businesses we have developed a variety of paid internships for our students. All of our internships are aligned with college and career pathways. When we redesigned our business partner engagement opportunities, we had intentional conversations with business partners to build a document specifically outlining the school’s goals which the business agrees to accomplish. This memorandum of understanding becomes the blueprint for the school and business partner relationship. Some of the paid opportunities include Brand Bank, which provides internships to our business pathways students or to those who have taken economics courses and have an interest in finance or entrepreneurship; Georgia Tech offers an opportunity for students to work with a professor and teacher over the summer to complete action research; and for some of our students who intern at Travelers Insurance, they are able to continue working full time at the company while they attend college.

These opportunities are mutually beneficial for the businesses as they feed their workforce pipeline. If our students are working in a position after school that is aligned with their learning experience, then we have enriched their learning and potentially created a valuable resource for the employer. This has created an environment in which our students no longer expect the typical part-time employment of a teenager. If a business partner does not have paid internships to offer, we work with nonprofits to provide resources to create additional paid internship opportunities for our students.

Creating Business Internship Opportunities on Campus

In addition to the paid internships off campus, many businesses work with students on campus as well. In collaboration with our area partners, we have created a variety of school-based enterprises that serve our 3,127 students and 247 staff members. These satellite branches are fully functioning businesses that require the full HR treatment and employee expectations that you would find in the off-campus branch. For example, Brand Bank has a location in the front of the school with a Brand Bank employee teller and a virtual teller machine. Our students, employees, families, and booster clubs have opened accounts and make transactions here. The bank even has a mortgage center that allows employees to close on their new homes during their planning period. Our students work with the bank, both on campus and off. Several of our partners have set up micro-branch offices located on our campus, including Branch Bank, Brand Mortgage, Shuma Sporting Goods, Georgia Department of Public Health, University of Georgia, Georgia Technical Institute of Technology, and the Compass Group.

These are just some examples of how we have reframed our school’s relationship with local businesses in the community. Since 2010, we have grown from one business partner with limited access to the school to 100+ partners who have donated more than $100,000 per year in services and resources to our students and community.

In next week’s post, I will offer some tips on how we built up the program and how you can get started in your community as well.

How does your school provide students real-world learning opportunities and prepare them for their 21st-century careers?

Tommy T. Welch, PhD, is the principal of Meadowcreek High School in Norcross, GA. Dr. Welch is a finalist for the 2018 National Principal of the Year award. He is also the 2017 Georgia Principal of Year and he was named the Outstanding High Schools That Work Administrator by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB). Follow him on Twitter @PrincipalWelch.

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