In a little school district in Northwest Arkansas, educators and business leaders are putting their heads together to find ways to teach students important life skills and prepare them to enter the workforce.
It all began a couple of years ago when local employers told the educators that their high school graduates weren’t prepared to begin a technical career. The educators, surprised and alarmed at that news, reacted perfectly. Rather than bristle or make excuses, leaders put their heads together and thought big. They came up with the idea for a career and technical center and presented it to McKee Foods, a local industry that is a key employer in the area.
The company liked the idea, and together, leaders of private industry and public education campaigned for a millage increase to pay for the center and to build a new intermediate school.
On Tuesday, I helped to cut the ribbon for Gentry’s Career and Technical Center, which will offer diesel engine maintenance, information technology and certified nursing.
In addition to learning their trade, the students will hone life skills such as showing up on time, clocking in at the center and keeping up with an “employee” badge.
Assistant Superintendent Christie Toland says the district is incorporating life-skills training in the lower grades to reach students earlier. As Mrs. Toland explains it, most tests measure academic achievement, but teachers want to instill life skills that those tests don’t measure. Those life skills are essential to have success in holding a job.
This cooperation between public schools and a private company is inspiring students. By affirming the notion that college isn’t the only path to an honorable, satisfying career, we free up students to open their minds to a future in a wider range of great-paying skilled occupations.
James Berry, who is the superintendent of the trucking fleet at McKee, agrees. He told a Democrat-Gazette reporter that maintaining trucks is a career path at McKee. He said, “There's not a person managing in our company who didn't start by working on trucks. That's how you become a supervisor.”
Likewise, those who take the certified nursing route will find many career options, including work in X-ray, phlebotomy and personal care.
In another show of cooperation and efficiency, schools in Gentry, Gravette, Siloam Springs and Bentonville each offer different technical courses. A Gravette student who wants to work on diesel engines may take the class in Gentry, for instance.
Students who choose a career in diesel engine repair will find plenty of opportunities right here in Arkansas, with companies like McKee, Walmart and J.B. Hunt using our state as a logistical hub.
This is great news both for our state and for industries who are considering relocating to Arkansas. We are building a strong and skilled workforce in a wide variety of fields.
On Tuesday, we cut the ribbon for the Career and Technical Center. This morning, they broke ground for the new intermediate school. It has been a busy week in Gentry, and a great week for our state, as another school district makes investments that will empower the future of Arkansas’ workforce – our students.