“1 in 24.” That huge statistic lit up the display screen behind Superintendent Michael Freeman as he welcomed guests to the inaugural meeting of the Partners Advisory Council and thanked them for joining Anson County Schools in the Youth Career-Connect initiative. “1 in 24,” Freeman stated several times. “1 in 24,” Freeman continued. “There are only 24 recipients of this U.S. Department of Labor funding across our great country — and Anson County is one of them. That tells me that the funders believe in our plan; understand how critical you, our partners, are to the implementation of that plan; and trust that our Career-Connect plan will lead student participants to successful career futures.”
Attending the meeting on May 19, at the ACS Staff Development Center were representatives of the school system, plus Lynn Edwards of the Anson Chamber of Commerce, Gary Henderson of Carolinas Healthcare System, David Hollars of the Centralina Workforce Development Board, Charles ‘Chuck’ Horne of Hornwood, Inc., and Dr. Stan Sidor and Dr. Tiffany Evans of South Piedmont Community College. Not in attendance at Monday’s meeting but fully invested in the program as partners are Columbus-McKinnon Corporation and Schaeffler Group USA of Cheraw.
As attendees introduced themselves around the table, the excitement of partners was evident. Gary Henderson, assistant vice president for Carolinas Healthcare System of operations in Anson County, told a personal story of how someone invested in him as a youth growing up in Washington, D.C., and what a difference that encouragement made for him as he moved ahead with his education and career. “We at Carolinas Healthcare System are proud to be part of this Career-Connect program in Anson County,” Henderson declared. “We look forward to working with you at this table and with Anson High School and its students.”
Dr. Tiffany Evans, chief academic officer for SPCC, acknowledged that the college has had multiple successes working with Anson County Schools and “we anticipate another successful experience as we bring college coursework to YCC students at Anson High.”
Centralina Workforce Development Board Executive Director, David Hollars, echoed the sentiments of others around the table and also emphasized a critical element of the Youth Career-Connect initiative. “You are developing a high school program for students that can transform your local and regional economy,” Hollars confirmed. “That is why we are at this table. We want to help you do that.”
Secondary education director Deborah Davis reminded everyone that this partnership is necessary for Career-Connect to be able to offer life-changing opportunities to Anson High students. She pointed out that the world and the economic marketplace are changing, that routes to enter successful careers are likewise changing, and that is it not always necessary to have a college degree to be able to enjoy a productive future. “This Career-Connect program,” Davis explained, “will offer Anson High students multiple routes from secondary school to careers. If they want to get a college degree, we will prepare them to do that. If they want to earn an industry credential or college certificate, we will help them do that. If they want to prepare for early entry into the working world, we will also prepare them for that.”
Anson High Principal Charles Murphy emphasized how vital Career-Connect is to help Anson High become a solid secondary prep setting for the 21st century. “This grant funding will unite us with you, key industry partners; connect our students to industry mentors and experiences that will shape their view of life after high school; and provide the resources to advance student preparation in key STEM areas,” Murphy clarified. “Thank you for joining forces with us.”
Kathy Carroll, technical consultant for the program, reminded partners of all the ways they would be supporting students in Youth Career-Connect, including mentoring and work-based learning experiences at industry sites. “Students will come to see themselves as competent and confident future employees who know their STEM concentration area and what is required to be successful in the workplace - such as fundamental reading, writing, and math skills; problem-solving and analysis; collaboration and teamwork,” Carroll emphasized. “This Career-Connect STEM Academy will prepare students to be successful in school, careers, and life - and you, our partners, will be critical elements of that preparation.”
Anson County Schools, on behalf of Anson High School and the local YCC Partnership, has received a Youth CareerConnect Grant from the Department of Labor that will bring over two million dollars to Anson High School during the next four years to establish a Career-Connect: STEM Academy Program. The program will begin this fall with 80 rising freshmen and grow into a full four-year program over the next four academic years serving over 300 students at Anson High. Students will participate in programs of study that meet high school graduation requirements and also lead to an industry certificate through SPCC, propelling them into further college study or into a STEM industry after graduation. The four STEM career focus areas are Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering, Information Technologies, and Medical and Biomedical Sciences.
“The partners for this project,” Freeman concluded, “is a who’s who list of leaders in their industry. Your participation will transform student lives, and we thank you now, at the starting point, for your willingness to invest in our students. You are our direct connection to the career marketplace, to real workplace experiences.” Partner representatives shared information with ACS leaders about employees in their organizations who will be vital contacts for the Career-Connect program, then paused for a photo to capture the historic nature of this Partners Advisory Council assembly.
In each Career-Connect: STEM academy, college credits will count toward a two-year degree, which students can continue after high school graduation. In grades 9-12, students can earn 18 or more semester hours of college credit, while the senior year will be almost entirely composed of college coursework aimed directly at earning certifications or degrees. College courses will be offered by SPCC instructors on the campus of Anson High School. Therefore, the CAREER-CONNECT Academy will fast-track students to credentials and college credits that further their education and career goals. Eighth grade student application requests for a specific high school setting this fall indicate that Anson High’s Career-Connect: STEM Academy will definitely meet its enrollment goals for Year 1. Letters to rising freshmen will be mailed in June indicating each student’s high school placement for 2014-2015.