“When will I ever use this in the real world?”
A Math and Algebra 1 Teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, Brittany Price, hears that question from her students almost daily.
“They want to know how the content they are learning in class will help them in their chosen career field one day,” she said. “These are valid questions that were difficult for me to answer.”
After participating in the Exploring Careers through Industry Teacher Externships (EXCITE) program earlier this summer, Price is better equipped to answer those questions and connect math concepts to regional employment opportunities. In just a week, Price spent time in Press Glass in Ridgeway, Henry County Public Safety, the Animal Medical Center in Danville and Danville Utilities.
“After participating in EXCITE, I can see how the math we teach students can be applied in different industry scenarios.” — Brittany Price, Algebra Teacher, Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School
This year 21 Southern Virginia educators participated in the week-long EXCITE program, connecting with local industries and employers and making connections to their classrooms. Two cohorts of educators visited various employers, including government organizations, manufacturers, sawmills, HVAC companies, utility providers and many other industries.
“I can share my experience at these businesses with my students and let them know what job opportunities are available and what skills they will need to succeed.” – Wayne Talley, Carpentry Teacher at Mecklenburg County High School.
Connecting the Classroom to the Workplace
First developed in 2018 and funded by the Danville Regional Foundation and organized by IALR, the professional development program is now available for educators across GO Virginia Region 3.
The main goal is simple: to connect the classroom to the workplace by engaging teachers and counselors with business and industry. Teachers improve their pedagogical practices by incorporating new methods, labor market information and employment skills that meet current industry standards.
The goal of EXCITE is to…
- Increase an educator’s ability to connect theory and practice
- Bring an understanding of workplace practices and policies (e.g., problem-solving methods, practical applications of theory, leadership concepts, etc.) into the classroom
- Increase the relevance of student learning
“The EXCITE program helps educators to better understand opportunities in the region, problems that employers are experiencing and the types of workers they need. This knowledge filters down to the students and allows these teachers to make real-world connections with students.” — Kiana Dillard, Work-Based Learning Coordinator, IALR
Educators spent the first four days visiting companies across Southern Virginia during the week-long program. The participants took tours, learned about different sectors’ required education and skills, and shadowed employees performing hands-on activities. On the fifth day, the educators met to discuss lessons learned and ideas for classroom implementation.
“Thanks to EXCITE, I was able to develop several different lesson plans that I can use in my classroom that go along with required content in Pre-Algebra and Algebra I,” Price said.
While the participants learned about technical skills and operations at each business, the need for soft skills was one of the main themes throughout the externships.
Some common themes from the post-program surveys:
|Area companies are expanding quickly and looking for workers now.||In many industrial jobs, workers are retiring, and insufficient workers are coming in to replace them.||Many skills can be taught. Employees need a good work ethic, punctuality, and a desire to be there to succeed.|
“I learned what local employers are looking for in new hires,” Talley said. “Employers need workers who excel in soft skills. Businesses can train employees to do the required job if the worker shows up ready to work.”
Investing in Future Workforce
Morgan Lumber Company in Red Oak, Va., was one of the 25 organizations that hosted teacher externs this summer. Safety and Compliance Coordinator Lucas Bowman said the company is recruiting many employees and is trying to engage with the community. This opportunity, he said, represented an opportunity to do both of those things.
“We’re able to discuss our business and the challenges we face with finding new employees, skills that they might be lacking, and the teachers can see real-world situations where the things they might be teaching translate to careers in the area.” — Lucas Bowman, Safety and Compliance Coordinator, Morgan Lumber Company
Externships give employers like Morgan Lumber Company avenues of involvement with K12 school systems. Employers inform educators about their expectations of employees in various positions and offer input to their curriculum, thereby contributing to preparing their future workforce.
One simple required skill in most industrial settings is reading a ruler/tape measure. Many organizations shared this same example and said that many employees must learn this skill after starting.
“If we can relay little things like that to the educators, they can hopefully find ways to address it and incorporate that skill in future lessons,” Bowman said.
Employers can also become guest speakers and mentors, host field trips and job shadows, and offer internships for students. In-kind donations of time and expertise allow employers to show their commitment to their community.