One of the most valuable components of college and career preparation can be partnering with area businesses, colleges, and government. Since many students will be seeking jobs in these organizations, knowing specifically what they look for in potential employees is key to navigating meaningful career preparation. But where do schools begin this conversation?
Wheeling High School, one of six comprehensive high schools in District 214 in Illinois, has answered that question in a how to guide. This guide, called “Pathways and Partnerships,” is a blueprint for matching high school students with local businesses, colleges, and government. As the idea for the program began to take shape, they designed a plan to bring partnerships into their schools, developed capacity for ongoing dialogue with partners to ensure sustainability, and conceptualized a model that fits their demographics and community.
They offer the following tips for creating a similar program in your school or district.
PARTNERING WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR
To establish private sector partnerships, Wheeling High School administrators suggest the following steps:
■ Research and contact potential stakeholders from private and public sectors.
■ Contact trade and local organizations and ask to attend meetings and/or establish membership.
■ Develop marketing to create awareness.
■ Host open houses at your schools for potential stakeholders.
■ Offer to host the meetings of local organizations at your schools.
■ Establish an advisory council for your program with representatives from these local organizations.
Wheeling has partnered with the TMA (Tooling and Manufacturing Association), the Wheeling Rotary club, the Chamber of Commerce, the SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers), and other national and local businesses. The benefits of these partnerships have included scholarships, internships, financial support, curriculum input, and equipment and material donations.
PARTNERING WITH HIGHER ED
Wheeling High School has also worked with area colleges to offer educational partnerships such as dual-credit courses, certifications, research, and other professional development opportunities for teachers and students. To begin this partnership conversation, they suggest that schools do the following:
■ Designate a point person on your end and a contact person at the college or university.
■ Design goals for the partnership.
■ Establish clear expectations for all parties involved.
■ Meet regularly throughout the school year to ensure open lines of communication.
■ Evaluate the partnership annually to improve programming.
When Wheeling partnered with Northern Illinois University, the university provided monthly professional development opportunities led by professors. D214 also partnered with William Rainey Harper College, which offers D214 students dual-credit and certification opportunities in fields such as manufacturing, engineering, nano science, and nursing. Because students in the nursing program can receive certification at the end of year three, juniors and seniors at Wheeling High and Elk Grove High School can graduate from Harper College with a CNA certification.
PARTNERING WITH GOVERNMENTAL INSTITUTIONS
Wheeling High School has also developed governmental partnerships. They began these partnerships by doing the following:
■ Developing relationships with elected officials.
■ Inviting them to their school for events.
■ Mentioning them in school literature when appropriate.
Wheeling invites local officials to events like their manufacturing job fair and original research competitions, and they even hosted US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for their nano lab grand opening. The benefits of school-government partnerships include opportunities for internships, curricular input, grants, financial support, and publicity.
As schools and districts continue to explore the ways in which they need to prepare students for further education and careers in the 21st century and help them to develop career pathways, partnerships will be an integral part of that preparation. These partnerships could lead to internships, career shadowing, field trips, curricular support and, in many cases, to job placement beyond high school.
Angela Sisi is the principal of Wheeling High School and Kevin Muck is the CTE/PE/health division head at Wheeling High School in Township High School District 214 in Illinois.