In Columbia, the business community cares about our schools and our scholars.
In generalities, there are certain myths about business involvement in education.
One is that business involvement in education is motivated by the bottom line. While it is true that an educated workforce leads to profit and a productive workforce, the real beneficiary is the employee. Further, strong schools mean strong communities and a civil and engaged society.
Our business community has stepped up in many ways to support workforce development efforts to develop highly skilled and highly qualified future employees.
Local businesses provide work opportunities, internships, co-op work experiences, support school-based enterprises, and help develop career programs that allow students to complete high school with the necessary skills and certifications to immediately enter the workforce.
MU Health Care has provided a satellite school location for Hickman High School students through a partnership with the school for more than 20 years. These programs allow students to attend class at the workplace for a portion of the day and work in jobs at the hospital for the other portion of the day.
The Seamless Transition through Enhanced Partnerships or STEP program started in 2010 in Columbia Public Schools. While many young adults with developmental disabilities successfully complete high school and find work, STEP includes the added benefit of a dedicated internship with support, collaboration, and mentoring to learn all the aspects of being successful in the workplace. The partnership between CPS, Alternative Community Training (ACT), Vocational Rehabilitation, and Boone County Family Resources (BCFR) is designed to improve employment outcomes for youth with developmental disabilities.
Participants gain valuable, real-work experience, and confidence in their abilities and in themselves. Today, there are nearly 30 Columbia businesses partnered with CPS to support work programs and classes for special education students, and the Columbia Mall has set aside dedicated space to provide students with a work-base location for learning.
And numerous local businesses and entities have partnered with the Columbia Area Career Center to create programs that allow students to be immediately skilled and employable upon completion.
Recently, the school district partnered with the Columbia Police Department to institute a new criminal justice program to help address law enforcement needs in our community. The coursework aligns with the Columbia Police Department’s recruitment plan to engage early with students who express interest in a law enforcement career; to familiarize them with the Columbia policing model of ensuring a safe, caring community; and to prepare them for jobs leading to eventual employment program.
Another myth is that businesses only give money. While donations and financial support of activities, athletics, scholarships, and special events happen, and are appreciated and contribute to the vitality and enrichment of our school-community, the more coveted assets are time and relationships.
For the last 39 years, the district’s Partners in Education program has provided an avenue for more than 250 local businesses to be actively engaged in our schools. When the program was conceived by former district leaders Russell Thompson, Jim Ritter, and Jolene Schultz, it was imperative that it be based on a cooperative handshake and not a handout. They molded this idea into a program that would benefit Columbia Public Schools, a true “partnership” between local businesses and schools. Their name for the program, Partners in Education, became the national moniker when President Reagan accepted the idea and gave it national status.
The premise of the program is to build bridges between the world of business and the world of education.
Through the commitment of business volunteers to Columbia Public Schools, our scholars have received invaluable opportunities to develop and practice the knowledge and skills they need to be well-rounded and active citizens both now and as adults. Volunteers enrich our school programs, improve productivity in our buildings, and empower students to do better.
Annually, thousands of volunteers provide assistance to our schools. At last count, volunteers contributed more than 367,000 hours of time to CPS schools and programs. That time is equivalent to $9.3 million. This is an enormous contribution to the educational experiences of our students and says a great deal about our community.
Business owners and employees are parents, too. They want to live and work in communities with good schools because they know that good schools and good communities go together. As partners, businesses and their employees want schools that make a difference in their community because supporting high achievement expectations makes a difference. Columbia Public Schools welcomes the business community to continue to play an active role in strengthening our schools and our community.
Dr. Brian Yearwood is the Superintendent of Columbia Public Schools