Tyrone teachers put to work

Courtesy photo / Sam Phillips, president of Gardners Candies, talks with educators Leslie Estep, Tom Yoder, Cathy Harlow, Rebecca Barlett, Rhonda Dodson and Chrystie Williams during a tour of the Gardners plant.

TYRONE — A group of Tyrone Area School District teachers now have a better understanding of what career opportunities are available in the Tyrone area and the skills needed to perform those jobs.

A group of 17 district educators participated in the Teacher in the Workplace program, funded by a $40,000 grant from Southern Alleghenies Workforce Investment Board.

The program offers the opportunity for educators to spend time at a place of business in order to be able to connect their subject area to the academic skills and knowledge required in the workplace, Superintendent Cathy Harlow said at a recent meeting of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Club.

“So often we focus our efforts on immersing students in the workplace. While this is very important, we also need to focus on providing our classroom teachers with information about the local employment opportunities available and the skills needed to be successful in the work environment,” she said.

“The goal of the program is to connect classroom learning with relevant business practices by engaging teachers and business leaders in discussions connecting challenges faced in the workplace and the school environment, skills needed compared to what is taught and career opportunities with student interests,” Harlow said.

When teachers visited the 19 participating businesses, the discussion was a two-way conversation.

“It was not all about what business needed but also the challenges educators were facing,” Hawlow said. “At many of the businesses, we were able to meet with the laborers. They were so appreciative of the opportunity to share their ideas about what they believed should be taught in school and to hear the feedback from our teachers.”

The expected outcomes of the program are to create a vital link between the classroom and “real world” living; to develop innovative programs for meeting educational goals; and to develop partnerships between educators and businesses that will help students succeed in college and the workplace, Harlow said.

Each teacher toured five of the participating businesses.

“During the tours we met with management-level personnel to discuss job opportunities within the organization, the various skills needed to complete the jobs, the education and training required and the specific areas where employers were struggling to obtain workers and the specific skills workers were lacking,” Harlow said.

The program helps teachers by providing a basis to relate the concepts being taught in their classrooms to relevant work skills.

“A student is more apt to learn a concept if they can understand how the concept is to be applied,” Harlow said. “By participating in the Teacher in the Workplace program, educators can answer those questions and relate what they are teaching to real world tasks or skills that they learned about in the business environment.”

After the business tours were completed, a meeting was held with the educators to discuss what they had learned and how that learning could be integrated into the curriculum, as well as ideas for further collaboration with businesses.

“We discussed some of the common needs of the businesses visited. During our tours, we often heard management express a need for basic skills,” Harlow said.

Rebecca Barlett, an interventionist at Tyrone Area High School, said a lot of students lack soft skills.

“You can have all of the hard skills, but if you don’t have the soft skills you can’t get a job,” she said.

“You have to be able to interview well and look someone in the eye,” Barlett added. “I will focus on the soft skills, help them learn how to speak and how to present themselves in a positive way to an employer.”

Other participating teachers were also impressed with the program.

“I told Mrs. Harlow that in my 39 years of teaching at Tyrone, this is one of the best programs I have been involved with. Many of the tours dealt specifically with the areas I teach,” Edward Vancas, a metalworking and manufacturing technology instructor, said. “During the tours I was able to see many of my former students that have graduated, transitioned into good-paying jobs and have become contributing members of the community.”

Vancas said he can communicate to his students the information gathered from local employers.

“We discussed things such as work ethic, skills needed, what it takes to become employable and how to advance from an entry level position. We also discussed that there are many good paying jobs available to people right in Tyrone and the surrounding areas,” he said.

Christopher Shedd, who teaches various math and science classes, said he participated because it sounded like an interesting program.

“It was an incredible experience. We were very warmly received by each of the businesses. There are a ton of job opportunities for all skill levels available in this area — and they are good paying jobs,” Shedd said. “It opened my eyes to the great number of employment opportunities and it gives me a lot more insight into the community. I can now have informed discussions with my students about the area businesses and their opportunities within those businesses.”

The program was also beneficial to participating businesses.

“Based on the feedback from employers, they felt that the experience was very positive. We heard from many of the businesses we visited that they are struggling to fill the positions they have available,” Harlow said. “By participating in the Teacher in the Workplace program, employers are able to share their story with educators who talk to students on a daily basis about career choices and opportunities.”

The program enabled businesses to let the teachers know about career opportunities.

“We feel that Kunzler & Company has opportunities for employment of local graduates who do not necessarily pursue a college education. We wanted to share with the educators not only what we do as a local business, but also what we expect from our employees as far as skills, work ethic and preparation for employment,” said David Grazier, vice president/general manager of the Tyrone Kunzler Division.

“We have a variety of positions we hire for — for all of our companies — and any time we can sit down face to face with educators it is a win win for us,” said Amy Mearkle, spokeswoman for DelGrosso Foods and DelGrosso’s Park. “Teachers share with us what they are presenting to students, and we share with the teachers what we are looking for when hiring employees. Tyrone is one of our top recruitment schools for park employees each season.”

American Eagle Paper Mills and Albemarle Corp. were also excited to participate in the program.

“It gave us the opportunity to showcase our mill to the educators at Tyrone Area School District and share with them the history of the iconic mill, the process in which we make our recycled paper and our employment needs. By participating in the program, it gave the educators knowledge about the paper making industry and allowed them to share that knowledge, as well as the opportunities and needs of the paper mill with the students,” said Doug Castagnola, mill human resources manager.

“We see the value in educating both the teachers and the students on what skills are needed for graduates to enter the workforce. If we can help educators better understand what our needs are in industry, they can translate that into educating the students in those areas,” said Tom Getz, Albemarle human resources manager. “We think this is a very valuable program that can benefit students, teachers, industry and the local community.”

The final phase of the initial year was for the teachers to develop a lesson plan incorporating what they learned through the tours and conducting at least one collaborative activity with a business partner, Harlow said.

Tyrone recently received notification that they were awarded an additional $50,000 for the 2019-20 school year.

“We plan to expand the Teacher in the Workplace program by offering more intensive immersion into the workplace for those teachers who participated this year. We would like to solicit a second cohort of staff members and offer them the same opportunity to tour businesses and have discussions regarding the opportunities and needs of local employers,” said Harlow, who is retiring at the end of the school year.

The Altoona Area School District has received a $50,000 grant and will participate in the program in the upcoming school year.

“The Teacher in the Workplace Grant will impact not only students, but teachers, counselors, administrators and local businesses within our community. This grant brings a comprehensive approach to educating all stakeholders about local workplace options for students,” said Haley Fleegle, director of federal programs, gifted and instructional coaching, said. “Partnerships between AASD and local businesses will provide an opportunity for us to better prepare students for the needs within our local community whether students upon graduation plan to move on to post-secondary education or join the workforce. We are excited about the potential that this opportunity has to impact our students and the community as a whole.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.


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