Did you ever want the chance to help shape what our children are learning in the classroom?
Thanks to the staff at Merced Union High School District and a company that helps schools improve educational programs, I got that opportunity during the summer school break.
Like many people, I used to watch our educational system from the sidelines. But for the past twenty-plus years, I have taken advantage of opportunities to weigh in on what’s going on in our schools.
In the 1990s in upstate New York, I was involved in a business and education collaboration that brought together school administrators and people running companies.
Our mission was to help identify the skills employers needed in their company’s workforce and work with schools to incorporate those job skills in class.
At first, both sides were skeptical yet optimistic. A common perception the business people had was that the teachers were not presenting anything relevant to what was going on in the real world.
Educators had a perception that the business community was only concerned about lowering taxes and reducing the amount of money government was spending on education.
But the goal was pretty clear: the people creating jobs felt many local graduates were unprepared for work. By talking to one another, we could better understand the problem and work on solutions.
We got through those early years by building trust, working collaboratively, and becoming a little more open-minded.
In the last decade, a group known as the Business Education Alliance of Merced (BEAM) was formed by the Merced County Office of Education to do the same thing: bring the worlds of business and education together to improve the quality of education.
That group had a strong start, but interest fell in later years and the group no longer meets. The need for business input in education is still there, but now it is being addressed by the schools working directly with businesses in their communities.
That takes me to the call to participate in a project of the Merced Union High School District.
I was asked to take part in an evaluation of one of the career and technical education (CTE) courses offered by the District. I was joined by another working professional, the educator who teaches the class at Yosemite High School, and a facilitator from the consulting company hired by the District
(Educational Programming Improvement Center based in Oregon. www.EPIConline.org).
Our task was to evaluate the local Energy and Power Technology program on how well it covers California education standards.
The high school class is taught at the Merced Adult School facility on the Yosemite High School campus. Teacher Kahri Boykin says that without the Merced Adult School, the entire Energy and Power Technology program would not be available to students.
The Adult School offers a similar program preparing older workers for jobs in many fields including energy.
We met at the El Capitan High School Cafeteria and spent several hours reviewing the curriculum for the Energy and Power Technology program.
We were referred to as the Technical Working Review Panel. We were given documents to read ahead of the day-long work session. Knowing how important it is to have people who are working in the field engaged in how these programs are put together, I accepted the request to participate.
Fortunately, I work for a company that encourages community service such as this.
We reviewed each of the California Education Department’s standards for the curriculum. Kahri told us whether or not that standard was being addressed in the program. As he explained what he was doing in the classroom, the two business representatives would offer feedback.
The consultant kept us on track as we went through each standard. With about seventy individual standards including associated subsets tied to the program, it was clear not all of them could be integrated in the Energy and Power Technology curriculum.
But my business colleague and I were impressed that many of the standards are already part of the program.
The standards themselves were reasonable and read as though sound business principles were taken into consideration as they were written.
For the Energy and Power curriculum, some of the standards include: understanding basic communications, being aware of current technology, knowing the roles and responsibilities of team members, and having the technical knowledge to do the jobs that the program is preparing the student to fill upon graduation.
Other skills covered by the standards and highly valued by the business partners included: safety, entrepreneurship, and personal ethics.
Our work concluded with lunch, a thank you gift from Merced Union High School District, and a feeling that in a small way we made a difference in bringing business insight to a career-oriented program.
We met some new people, exchanged contact information, and returned to our regular jobs. In thanking my private sector colleague and me, Kahri told us he was going to apply some of our input directly to the classroom beginning this fall when the students return from summer vacation.
It was not an ordinary workday, but it was a productive means to the end of preparing our young people for the jobs that will need to be filled in the future.
We had our chance to tell a teacher what our companies are looking for in their new hires. That made the whole effort worthwhile. We left knowing the school district appreciated our effort to help them prepare our young people for possible careers in the energy industry.
The economic development professionals I have known over the years have told me that one of the first questions a company will ask when considering investment to a community is how skilled is the local workforce?
A second question is usually about what initiatives are in place to train workers for the jobs the company will create?
So to these future solar installers, home energy auditors, and related careers covered by the Energy and Power Technology curriculum, I wish you the best of luck.
As former State Assembly Member Juan Arambula, once told me, “The world of work is as easy as A-B-C. A: get a job. B: get a better job. C: get a career.”