Reprinted with permission of The Daily Reflector


By Sharieka Botex

Several Pitt County educators spent a week on the job with two major Greenville employers to see first hand the job skills they need to be teaching their students.

The Teachers@Work program connected Vidant Medical Center and Hyster Yale with Pitt County Schools last month so teachers can bring the experience back into the classroom and help train tomorrow's workforce, organizers said.

"By having teachers experience first-hand how the skills they are teaching every day are used in the workplace, it helps them answer the age-old question they get from their students - 'why do I need to know this,'" Robyn Kinsey Mooring, program manager for Teachers@work, said.

Vidant Medical Center hosted Tenisha Holloway-Powell, a language Arts and AVID teacher at Wellcome Middle School, and Elrica Cooper, a STEM teacher at the school. Holloway-Powell said she met administrators and a range of other leaders and workers at Vidant and discussed what they are looking for in possible candidates.

"We went around and shadowed different departments in the hospital ... to see different jobs," Holloway-Powell said. "Our students typically think of doctors and nurses, so we're trying to bring other careers to their attention and the requirements so they can get focused now, as well as the soft skills that we have already identified that they are missing that they need in our classroom ... also for employment or going to college, or the military."

It is Vidant's second year participating in the program said Lisa Lassiter. She said teachers need to work with students on a variety of skills including communication, teamwork, critical thinking, soft skills like coming to work on time and following the schedule. She said knowing how to approach people, how to shake hands, hold a conversation and conflict resolution also are important.

Shadowing professionals such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, radiologists, nutritionists, dietitians, medical assistants and receptionists exposed them to the wide range of opportunities at the medical facility, Cooper said.

First-hand look at 21st century skills in action

"Some of the skills we know students need work on are the communication skills, because we are in the age now where a lot of people do texting," Cooper said. "Some students and grown people write in text language instead of (using) regular communication skills."

As a teacher, Cooper works in a computer-based classroom where students work on STEM-related models. It requires teamwork, she said, which was one of the strong qualities she noticed in employees she shadowed in the hospital.

"We toured with physical therapy and occupational therapy," Cooper said. "Even some of the patients in pain, the people working with them, they made it fun so they could take their mind off the pain. I feel that is a good thing to take back to the classroom. Even though you may not like doing some of the things you're doing, you still can have a good time doing it."

Holloway-Powell said she saw many of the 21st century skills she focuses on as a teacher, like understanding that each person in the workplace has a role to play in the collaborative process.

"Being able to work with all people, whether you want to or not, being able to effectively work with them appropriately, if you have a grievance, knowing the steps of how to resolve it — those are the same things we see in our classrooms, where we have to do conflict resolution,' she said. "Hopefully by the time they leave our school or graduate, they (will) know how to resolve those things on their own, so they can be employed or successful in whatever it is they need to do."

For Holloway-Powell, one of the highlights of the week was being exposed to robotics. "I know that robots are things that are used in surgery so that was exciting," she said. "I know that our students would be interested in that as well as that technology."

When the fall semester starts, Cooper plans to implement a new ritual to help her students with an important skill. "We have to stand outside our doors, so I am thinking when my students come to class, I am going to greet them with a handshake instead of a normal 'Good morning' like I usually do, so that can at least help them learn how to shake hands with people."

Relating the workplace to the classroom

Both were happy to be a part of the program. "I feel like it's hands on and gives us the visuals to realize what actually goes on in the workplace," Cooper said. "We know in health care you take care of sick people. It's not all about just taking care of sick people. You are helping them to get back to their normal life. You learn more once you get into (it) and actually see what's going on inside."

Hyster-Yale, which manufactures lift trucks, hosted three teachers as part of ongoing partnerships with the school system to encourage science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs. Their week included exposure to design engineering, meeting value stream managers and many of the employees.

"We've been very much involved in STEM for the past two and a half, three years," said Wayne Washington, a human resources manager at at the plant. "We recognize the value of strategic recruitment."

Strengthening students' mathematical, engineering and computer skills are some ways to prepare them for opportunities with the company, Washington said.

Among other activities, the teachers sat in on a train class with the employees, Washington said.

"They got so much out of it and were communicating with us about what the kids were interested in and how we can benefit from each other."

Statewide partnership connects teachers and businesses

Teachers@Work is a statewide program that started in 2014. It is a partnership of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, STEM East, the state Community College System and Department of Public Instruction. Teachers are recommended by their school systems based on the subjects that can be supported by the partnering businesses. They complete an application process and are selected based on their recommendation and the quality of their application.

Teachers spend a 40-hour week at a business. They also receive training for workplace certifications through their local community college. Each teacher receives a stipend of up to $1,000 based on the amount of time spent on-site and their lesson plan. They also receive one continuing education unit for every one contact hour spent on the program.

Funding for the program comes from North Carolina Department of Public instruction, State Farm and the Biogen Foundation. The N.C. Golden Leaf Foundation provides much of the funding statewide and all money for teacher stipends in Pitt, Greene, Wayne, Lenoir, Craven, Jones, Onslow, Duplin, Beaufort, Carteret and Pamlico counties, Mooring said. "We also have some of the businesses that pay a portion of the cost of their partnering teacher's participation."

Mooring said NCBCE members and other partnering businesses volunteer to participate in the program or are approached to fulfill goal of having at least two teachers representing each of the eight education regions in the state and up to 25 teachers participating in the eastern part of the state.

"These businesses provide the human capital and financial backing needed to support placing teachers into valuable hands-on learning environments," Mooring said. "We are currently at capacity in terms of bringing additional teachers into the program. However, due to the impact Teachers@Work is having in the classroom, NCBCE is pursuing new business and community partnerships that would allow us to scale our current model."

Caroline Sullivan, executive director of NCBCE, said the program enables teachers to integrate elements from a real-world industry environment into their classroom curriculum.

"If we want teachers to educate today's students for the jobs of tomorrow, we have to invest in professional development opportunities that put teachers in those job environments," Sullivan said. "NCBCE's Teachers@Work program recognizes that reading a career profile is one thing. Observing first-hand the skills that are used in the electrophysiology lab at Vidant Health or taking a behind-the-scenes look at Hyster-Yale's manufacturing supply chain is completely different."

Vidant's Lassiter said the program is a win-win situation for all involved because the business gets a voice in the classroom with students who are the future workforce.

"One of the things we struggle with as a society, we watch television and we see things such as Grey's Anatomy, Life in the E.R. and stuff like that, so our adults and children think that's the reality of what our world is. Then when they come in here, they find out that's not what it is at all," Lassiter said. "That's drama and television really to capture your attention ... It's as important to know what you don't want to do as you do want to do."