By Tom Holmes
Munching paninis prepared by Chef Keith Morris's culinary class, 40 elected officials, law enforcement officers, business people and nonprofit organization leaders listened on April 12 to a new strategy implemented by Proviso East High School to strengthen its connection to the community.
"We cannot prepare students for life after graduation solely from a classroom. A truly transformational educational experience is not just one you hear about, but one you can experience," said Jason Spoor-Harvey, college and career academies coordinator at Proviso East.
At the kickoff luncheon, Spoor-Harvey described what District 209 is calling its "Community and Industry Council," and how it would both involve and benefit folks working in the "real world." The council aims to give students learning experience from local businesses and leaders. He encouraged all attendees to become members of what will be called the "General Council," which would meet twice a year.
"The creation of a strong partnership between community and industry leaders is mutually beneficial," Spoor-Harvey said. "The school gains an ally its implementation of a rigorous curriculum which prepares students to enter a global workplace and the community gains a better prepared workforce, cadre of entrepreneurs, and leaders. It is also crucial to expose young people to the expectations and realities of today's workplace and that takes a village."
In addition to the two general meetings, council members could participate in panel discussions at the school, speak in classes, mentor or coach students, stage mock job interviews or provide job shadowing experiences. If possible, they could offer internships to students during their senior year.
Business and community leaders willing to take on a greater commitment in partnering with the high school would have the opportunity to serve in a smaller group called the "Cabinet," which would include four meetings a year with the task of reviewing the school's curriculum, leading full council meetings, scholarship and fundraising activities and participating in teacher development.
Proviso East has piloted its Marzano Academy for the first-time this year, which let freshman students choose to study in the "Arts and Communications Academy," "Business and Human Services Academy" and "Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering Academy." Students would be paired with community leaders and organizations depending on where their academy best fit.
Patrick Hardy, principal of East, explained why he believes the new program will benefit both students and business people through a hypothetical situation.
"If you have installed a new software system at your business, and we are still teaching our students how to use the old system, when they graduate our students will not be able to fit right into your business," he said.
Chris Everett, founder of Everett Wealth Solutions, a financial planning firm at 407 Marengo Ave., said she felt "proud" of the new initiative by East, adding that "students that have such a breath of fresh air in what used to be a stagnating quagmire."
"I want all of Forest Park to really see and know what is happening. Involving the business community is a smart way to begin those connections. I look forward to serving on the team," she said.
Gary Arnold, program director at the Progress Center for Independent Living, 7521 Madison St., said the program will help prepare students for life after high school.
"What I heard about at the meeting is an initiative that engages Proviso East students and community members in a partnership that will give students tools that will help them move forward in high school and beyond, and a partnership that will strengthen Proviso and the surrounding communities in future," he said. "Progress Center is excited to offer a role in the Proviso East Academies."
Lisa Neumann, owner of In & Out Fitness, 7756 Madison St., said she was impressed and that Spoor-Harvey "seems to have a real understanding about the challenges which traditionally have faced this community and seems dedicated to turning it around."
"I started a small business, from concept, to business plan, to financing, operations, invoicing, really everything," Neumann said. "I also am a personal trainer, with many certifications in special populations as well as nutrition. I would love to share as much knowledge as they see fit, from industry specific information, shadowing/mentoring, speaking to groups."
Those interested in joining the community and industry council can email him at email@example.com.