When Business and Education Move Forward Together

By Ross Wilson, College, Career and Technical Education Communications Intern

Students are not the only ones who benefit from field trips; sometimes, teachers, counselors, and administrators are the ones exploring new and exciting worlds outside of school. The 2016 School Team Externship Program serves as a week-long field trip for adults, but the program also serves a vital role in our state’s economic development. The School Team Externship Program helps to prepare students for the competitive and ever-changing 21st century job market by giving school faculty the tools they need to plan and build a school-wide and cross-curricular culture of industry engagement,

MCCThis June, school teams composed of career and technical education (CTE) teachers, general education teachers, school counselors, and administrators gained first-hand experience at a local industry so that they can take what they learn back to their respective schools. Over the course of a work week, the school teams immersed themselves in a local industry and listened to the needs of current employers.

This year, three companies participated in the program: Unum, a benefits company and one of the largest employers in Chattanooga; Eastman, a Kingsport manufacturer of chemicals that are used in everyday products; and the Music City Center, a 1.2 million square foot state-of-the-art convention center in Nashville.

We followed a school team from East Hamilton School in Hamilton County and another from Heritage High School in Blount County to Unum to see the impact that the program had on their plan to refine and implement industry engagement activities in their school.

The school team model allowed for a breadth of perspectives. For example, in a world dominated by a drive to increase STEM education, Lindsey Donahue, a social studies teacher at East Hamilton School, found newfound inspiration after speaking with employees at Unum.

“As a social studies teacher, looking at the humanities and hearing so much about writing skills and being able to pull apart a document says to me they do actually need these humanities skills,” Donahue said. “What I’m teaching does matter, and it’s going to be something that they do need in the workforce.”

Of course, the School Team Externship Program would not have been successful without the involvement of community-minded and socially responsible businesses such as Eastman, Unum, and the Music City Center.

Unum 3 “We have a deep commitment to supporting not only students, but also our educators because, as we all know, they’re really busy in their day-to-day lives,” said Jeana Lee, community relations specialist at Unum.

All three business already have relationships with local schools; one of the goals of the program was for the school teams to, first, build relationships with their externship host and second, to target other businesses in their community.

During the externs’ week with Unum, the school team learned about the large-scale corporation and how it operates. On the last day, speakers from Unum expressed the deficits they see with incoming employees. The biggest problems often involve soft skills and life skills, such as written and verbal communication, presentations, and navigating the interview process. Many of the school team members recognized this trend as a growing problem, but they did not realize how serious the situation was.

“I was suspecting that our soft skills were weak. I did not realize how weak they were until we came here,” said Lynette Cottrell, a CTE educator from Heritage High School. However, Cottrell and the other teachers are using this program as an opportunity to start tackling these issues. “I felt like this externship could give us some of the tools we can use to address some of the weaknesses in our program,” Cottrell said.

Ultimately, this program has benefited both parties by creating a constructive bond between industry and education. “Now,” says Isaac Bradshaw, a counselor at Heritage High School, “we aren’t operating a school in a vacuum of what is actually necessary and what employers are looking for.”

The department will be releasing the application for next year’s School Team Externship Program in the spring of 2017, as well as sharing an Externship Guide this fall that will assist districts in developing their own externship programs.