By Deborah Storey , Contributing Editor
Huntsville High teacher Malcolm Parker remembers one of his students who was particularly shy. Instead of sharing presentations in front of the class, she would ask if she could do them one-on-one for him.
Her class began studying career opportunities using the Chamber’s ASmartPlace.com workforce development and recruitment initiative. The website provides job listings, online training, career videos, courses and more for students, teachers, or anyone seeking job information.
The student became so engrossed in researching cosmetology that “not only did she do one presentation, she’s done three” in front of the class, Parker said.
Parker is in his third year teaching ninth-grade biology at Huntsville. He was recruited a week before class to lead the career preparation course using the ASmartPlace program custom-designed for north Alabama teachers. The 10-unit curriculum for eighth and ninth grades includes teacher and student guides along with quizzes, videos, and assessment tools.
Teachers guide students through “basic things they need to know about careers, from making the right decisions, to planning their finances, going to college, even how to fill out documentation,” Parker said.
“The students actually love it,” he added. “I wish I had something like this when I was a kid – to have a curriculum where I could have someone teach me some things to not make some mistakes.”
Students also learn Huntsville history, how Cummings Research Park began, and the practical approach to getting local jobs – even in hot fields like cybersecurity. More than 54,000 students and almost 5,000 faculty members in Huntsville and Madison County are connected to ASmartPlace.
The program “helped me to tap into a standardized curriculum that was able to help me educate my students and prepare them for real careers,” said Parker.
Videos show local employees at work. “You don’t get to go and just walk into Boeing and talk to somebody,” said Parker. “To see real people in our real city, that’s the next best thing to getting there.”
Some students revised their original career goals during the class, Parker said, but for most, it “reinforced what they wanted to do.”
“These students are able to see their way from the classroom to college to the boardroom or into their particular industry of choice,” he said. “They are ready to connect by a click of a button to real people in real industry positions who are teaching them about where they want to go.”
He said ninth-grade students may know only if they want to attend Alabama or Auburn but leave the program “knowing how to get there.”
National Board Certification for Teachers
With financial support from the local business community, teacher Jane Haithcock took advantage of a professional development opportunity to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The Huntsville Committee of 100’s Creative Cities Fund and The Schools Foundation raised $200,000 for local teachers to pursue that elite designation, and presented it to the three school systems on Feb. 13. That will fund 100 teachers to go through certification. National Board Certification is a rigorous process as well as an expensive one. It is, as the saying goes, an investment in the future and our people.
“The research shows that kids who are taught by board-certified teachers do receive almost an extra one to two months of instruction,” said Haithcock, who teaches eighth-grade language arts at Liberty Middle School in Madison. “That impact is even bigger for our migrating kids and people from lower socioeconomic status.”
Certified teachers really push themselves to make lessons more engaging, and students seem to enjoy the classes more, she said. One requirement is for teachers to film themselves in class.
“It’s not a fun process,” Haithcock said. It shows “everything you do wrong.”
“I like to think I give my kids plenty of time to think. I didn’t – not enough. I ignored almost the entire right side of my classroom,” she said.
Industry Insights: Teacher Tours Lead to Internships, Jobs for Students
Through the Chamber’s Industry Insights program, Beverly Massa helps her students by engaging with local companies for practical experience and vital internships. She is a Work-Based Learning Coordinator for Madison County Schools and has attended our industry field trips – taking pictures, asking questions, and learning about real opportunities to share with her students.
These field trips give teachers, counselors, and career tech educators exposure to many types of work, including advanced manufacturing, robots at work in truck manufacturing, the inner workings of the Polaris Industries manufacturing plant, and careers on Redstone Arsenal. Additionally, educators have toured PPG Aerospace, visited Huntsville Hospital, and participated in sessions with HR representatives and industry leaders for roundtable discussions.
One of Massa’s students landed an internship in cybersecurity as a result. Another discovered that working in healthcare doesn’t always require a four-year degree. She enrolled in phlebotomist training and is working in the field while continuing her education. “That is making a difference,” Massa said.
For a well-rounded workforce, a trade is an important alternative to a four-year degree. One student who connected through the program is working as a plumber in constructing the Facebook Data Center and making $20 an hour. “For a senior in high school, that’s very good,” Massa said.
“The Chamber workforce programs have generated a successful pipeline in connecting secondary and post-secondary education and businesses,” she said. “All the energy and funds that have been expended for Industry Insight experiences have and will continue to be beneficial for continued growth and success of our area.”
“This one venture has made an impact on many educators, students, and business leaders,” Massa added.
SAIL through Summer
Another local program helps students keep their learning momentum going through the summer. The Community Foundation of Greater Huntsville and The Schools Foundation fund the Summer Adventures in Learning collaborative, or SAIL. SAIL brings together funders and summer programs that share a quality assurance framework in order to better provide intentionally academic summer learning.
Amy Mason is principal of Madison County Elementary in Gurley, which has received SAIL grants for the last three years.
“Without the support of SAIL and federal community learning center grants, our students would be at risk of losing three months of learning over the summer,” Mason said. Low-income area students are at particular risk of losing reading and math skills during the break, she said.
“The energetic summer-camp style programming that we provide gives children the opportunity to build relationships with positive role models and to broaden their horizons for the possibilities for the future,” Mason said as she spoke at the 2020 State of the Schools event on February 13, hosted by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, The Chamber Foundation, and The Schools Foundation.
Mason said one of her most memorable success stories involved a middle-school girl who had been homeless through the school year. By participating in the summer learning program, she was so inspired that she “believes she can really go to college,” Mason said.
Principally Speaking Network
School principals need inspiration, too. The Schools Foundation hosts regular professional development opportunities through the Principally Speaking Network. Principals from across 20 school districts regularly attend and share best practices and learn from each other.
Mason talked about a recent session at Campus 805. “It inspired me to return to my school with a full cup that is ready to pour back into the many stakeholders that we serve within our community,” Mason said.
This article appears in the April 2020 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.