School recessed for Jackson County students and teachers at the end of May.
But for eight local teachers, learning hasn’t stopped in the summer.
This week, they are spending six hours a day at different industries in the county as part of the Educator to Industry Summer Externship, learning what those places do and their job opportunities.
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In the end, the teachers will be able to incorporate what they learned into lesson plans and possibly help their students land a future career.
The opportunity was made possible through a collaboration between the Economic Opportunities Regional Advanced Manufacturing Network and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. Funding is through an Indiana Department of Workforce Development Skill UP grant.
“I wanted to learn more information about what’s available entry-level employment-wise for my graduating students so that I can help them better prepare to enter our workforce and to let me serve my students and our community better,” Celeste Bowman, the Jobs for America’s Graduates specialist at Seymour High School, said of why she applied for the program.
Bowman and Justin Vorthmann, who teaches Project Lead the Way, calculus, algebra, physics and earth and space science at Trinity Lutheran High School, started the week at Aisin Chemical Indiana LLC in Crothersville. The next two days were spent at Valeo in Seymour; today they are at Pet Supplies Plus in Seymour; and they will finish the week back in Crothersville at Aisin Drivetrain Inc.
“I don’t have any engineering or manufacturing training. In order to teach Project Lead the Way at Trinity, I had to take their course, but that’s bookwork. I needed to know, ‘How does the stuff that I’m teaching my kids in the classroom apply out in the workforce?’” Vorthmann said of his reason for doing the externship.
The program was offered several years ago during the summer. It then was moved to the school year, but that didn’t work out well because it took teachers out of their classroom.
Last year, it was brought back in the summer through funding from the Jackson County Education Coalition. That involved nearly 40 teachers, counselors and administrators visiting county industries and the hospital on five different dates throughout the summer.
But this year, only eight teachers were selected, and the program was changed to consecutive days in one week. Also, instead of everyone going to the same places, they were asked what information they would like to be able to gather, and JCIDC matched them with places that could help them accomplish that goal.
For example, Seymour teachers Bob Sexton and Curt Schleibaum visited Cummins Seymour Engine Plant, Aisin USA Mfg. Inc. and Excel Mfg. Inc. to help as they develop the Owl Manufacturing program.
Also, agriculture teachers Blake Hackman of Brownstown Central, Jeanna Eppley of Seymour, Bryan Schroer of Trinity Lutheran and Linda Begley of Crothersville spent three days at Rose Acre Farms and one day each at Kremers Urban Pharmaceuticals and Wal-Mart Distribution Center.
Vorthmann and Bowman both said now that they have seen the inside of these manufacturing facilities, they want their students to have that same opportunity.
Since they have networked with some company officials, they can schedule plant tours for their students.
Bowman said she learned about the vast number of opportunities that are available at county industries.
“I want to get students out of the classroom and into these facilities to see what they really are, to see ‘That looks interesting,’ ‘I could do that,’ ‘I want to learn more about that,’ ‘I want to graduate so I can go into that,’ ‘I can make a self-sustaining wage here,’” Bowman said.
In recent years, Vorthmann said several of his students have headed off to college to study various types of engineering. Since he has interacted with industry leaders, he could talk to them about job opportunities for his students.
“If I can build a relationship with some of these companies so that when (the students) are done, if they want to come back home, then I could help network with (the company leaders) to try to get them into a job that is near to their home and also within the area that they want to do,” he said.
In one of her lesson plans, Bowman said she will compare the industries’ human resources policies to school policies.
“ … to show the students ‘There’s a reason the school expects you to be here on time, there’s a reason your teachers expect you in class on time, there’s a reason you’re not allowed to use your cellphone in class’ so that students can be better prepared when they are ready to go to work for an employer and it’s not a surprise,” she said.
Vorthmann said it’s important for students to understand how manufacturing has changed through the years.
“A lot of times, for our students, when they think factory and manufacturing jobs, they are thinking poor working conditions and things like that from a generation or more ago. Positions aren’t the same as they used to be, either,” he said. “If we can start to change the mindset of our students before they head out, it will just give them a better idea of what they can expect.”
Shawn Barrett, assistant manager of production operation at Aisin Chemical Indiana, said it’s good for local industries to open their doors for teachers involved in the externship.
“I think it’s just good from a community development standpoint,” he said. “It shows that the companies in this area understand the unique dynamics of our area and are able to be proactive and kind of help solve these issues or help participate and look at these unique problems that our area has as a whole instead of working independently and hoping it’s mutually beneficial for everybody.”
Aisin Chemical Indiana has about 100 employees and opened a second plant late last year. As the company grows, it could increase its number of employees.
Barrett now has contact with two teachers to seek possible employees, and the educators know the expectations of the industries and can share that with their students.
“As the landscape changes, I think it’s very important that we’re actively recruiting the young people and giving them an opportunity to start a career sooner than later. That way, they are not in their late 20s and ‘Oh man, I really need to think about a career at this point,’” he said. “If you can get those candidates in sooner, you can start that education, even on-the-job education, sooner. I think everybody wins from that.”