How Can You Bring Local Businesses Into Your High School Classroom?
contributed by Anita Lamoureux
In Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon, we recently launched a pilot program that leverages partnerships with local industry to enhance our Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings and shape career pathways that start in elementary and extend through high school and post-secondary.
Spearheaded by Superintendent Dr. A. Katrise Perera and the district’s Board of Education, and developed by Executive Director of Innovation and Partnerships Carla Gay, this initiative brings together education, industry and the community in meaningful ways to not only validate students’ learning experiences, but also support their career preparation and the economic sustainability of the region.
I was eager to participate in this program because I recognized it would allow me to expand my efforts to integrate real-world perspective into my business and marketing classes at Sam Barlow High School. Following a 14-year career in human resources, I had transitioned to education in order to have a direct impact on helping students prepare for the future workforce. Partnering with local industry would provide new and interesting ways to energize the curriculum and inspire even higher levels of student engagement.
Making It Real
In my business and marketing classes, an important project for students is to create a concept for their own businesses. The ‘Create a Business’ project presented an ideal opportunity to collaborate with the district’s construction partner, Lease Crutcher Lewis (LCL). After meeting with members of the company’s marketing department at the start of the school year, we decided that students would focus on creating a storefront that best represents the ‘brand’ they were creating.
To kick off our collaboration, we exposed students to a ‘day in the life’ of a working professional, which included commuting into Portland early in the morning for a visit to LCL. Students were prompted to reflect on the storefronts we saw on our walk from the light rail stop to their offices and consider how design, architecture, signage and location combined to reflect particular brands and their business philosophies.
Once we arrived, we received a tour of the facility and then had a formal meeting with the marketing manager and marketing director. For many of my students, this was the first time they had been in a conference room. Students were given recycled office supplies to sketch out their storefront designs with the expectation that they would present their final designs to the entire group. We turned it into a mini-competition between the five teams and awarded the team that pulled together all the elements they were challenged to include in the time allotted.
A few weeks later, members of the LCL marketing team came to our classroom to review the final storefront designs, which students had digitized from their original sketches. This provided a valuable opportunity for students to receive input from marketing professionals in the format of a business meeting. For the final phase of our collaboration, the marketing team will critique students’ year-end presentations.
Their return visit represents a fitting culmination to our collaboration and has inspired much higher levels of preparation by the students while giving them the opportunity to share their work with an authentic industry audience. In addition, one student may even be selected for a summer internship.
As we continue to develop meaningful partnerships with local businesses, we have learned many lessons along the way and have identified some of the key ingredients for success.
1. Bring in outside experts
Inviting outside experts into our schools provides important learning opportunities for everyone involved. Initially, it may feel uncomfortable to share our classrooms with other adults, but inviting in professionals who can speak to specific career opportunities for students must happen to validate the curriculum and the objective of Career and Technical Education to prepare our students for workforce and careers.
2. Be open and flexible
When partnering with industry, it’s important to remember that the collaboration may take surprising turns, so it’s important to take a flexible approach. For instance, industry partners typically have not had experience as educators and may feel awkward, at first, when interacting with students. To facilitate this process, we had an initial conversation to outline our goals and provide pointers. We also learned that we needed to be up front about any scheduling limitations and find creative workarounds, such as field trips, to bring students together with their partners.
Finally, if one aspect of the project isn’t proceeding as planned, we realized it was better to acknowledge that and pivot as needed.
3. Foster an authentic exchange
My students are typically in their junior year of high school, so it is especially important to create conditions for an authentic exchange with our industry partners to prepare students for their imminent entry into the ‘real world.’ Accordingly, in our second meeting, we let our marketing partners know that the students were looking for lots of honest feedback on their projects, so they shouldn’t hold back.
Indeed, professionals from local industries are absolutely vital to helping provide a reality check, and students will more likely believe and value their experience and input.
Beyond the Classroom
Our region offers more manufacturing and construction jobs than can be filled, so fostering collaboration between education, local industry and the greater community provides a powerful way to extend student learning and contribute to the health of the local economy.
Moreover, the learning that takes place when students are able to work closely with representatives of local industry provides benefits that far outweigh those of using a textbook. Through this type of collaboration, students gain valuable exposure to the working world while improving their communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills to prepare them for lifelong learning and success in their future careers.
Anita Lamoureux is a Marketing and Business teacher at Sam Barlow High School, part of the Gresham-Barlow School District in Oregon. She has her Masters Degree in Career Technical Education and her EdS in Educational Leadership. Connect with Anita on Twitter @anitalam43