Student Success Through Partnerships with Local Businesses and Community Leaders
Working with local industry to create career pathways
By Frank Holthouse
District name: Leyden Community High School District 212
District location: Franklin Park, IL
Location type: Suburban
Grade Range: 9-12
Number of students in district: 3375
Number of full-time certified staff in district: 265
Domink Golec is a production engineer at Qualiseal Technology, an aerospace manufacturer focusing on mechanical seals. Domink graduated from high school only a few years ago, but is now a certified engineer and a head of his department. This was more than just good luck; it was the result of a strong partnership between Leyden High Schools and the local industry in the community.
While in high school Dominik took a unique set of classes in advanced manufacturing. These classes were tailored by an advisory council made up of local companies. It ensured that Dominik left the program with the right skills. During his senior year, he was able to end his school day earlier so that he could do on-the-job training 25 hours a week through a cooperative work program. This is where he began his career with Qualiseal. Upon graduation, he was offered a full-time job. With recognition of his aptitude and passion for manufacturing his company paid for Dominik to earn his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. That is right; he didn’t pay a dime for his bachelor’s degree! Dominik is not alone, by establishing a strong partnership with local industry, the Leyden High Schools have managed to provide a pool of highly qualified candidates.
Leyden Community High School District 212 is composed of two high schools located just outside Chicago. The Leyden community is made up of an almost equal combination of residential and commercial properties. With its proximity to O’Hare International Airport, our community is home to advanced manufacturers, high tech data centers, a variety of hotels, and headquarters for several national brands. We have found these companies to be a huge asset to our education programs. Leyden District 212 values all student pathways to success, whether to college, careers, or military service. If a student chooses to enter the workforce, we want him to graduate with the experience and knowledge needed to enter high wage, high demand careers.
You may be wondering why local employers spend their valuable time working with teaching staff and school leadership. This has been a symbiotic relationship. Being able to tap into the enterprise and generosity of our local employers has helped reshape the courses we offer. We have found that employers are also happy. By being part of the conversation, employers can ensure that the right academic opportunities are being offered to students. This has created better candidates, which in turn keeps the companies profitable.
The cornerstone of any class is the content that is offered. Within all of our career pathways, we have worked with advisory councils and local employers to ensure what is offered to students is reflective what is happening in industry today, and what is trending for tomorrow. Instead of going the traditional route of using the textbook to guide the content of class, Leyden has established a wide variety of advisory councils. These councils are comprised of business leaders, managers, and owners, some of which are alumni. Teachers and advisory council members get together on a regular basis and review what is being taught in the class, how it is being taught, and sometimes even how the class is marketed to students. To overhaul an entire class is a lot of work. Often the norm is challenged, but at the end of process, there is intent and purpose for every minute of every day.
One of the recurring topics that came up when speaking to our advisory councils was the lack of soft skills in their current candidates and recent hires. One member said, “Look, I can teach anyone to do this work. But what I can’t do is show people how to be nice, professional, show up on time and accept feedback.” That was eye-opening for our instructors. Before that conversation, we really didn’t teach that, or even mention it. Working hand-in-hand with our advisories, we created new projects that help teach soft skills. One of my favorite projects has students record mock interviews with their teacher, focusing solely on the soft skills. The tape is reviewed, and individualized feedback is provided. This process is repeated throughout the year until our students are equipped with the soft skills needed to be successful.
Recently there has been a push across the nation to have students earn industry-recognized, stackable credentials. We have found that the quality of credentials available out there is mixed. With the establishment of advisory councils, we can ensure that the credentials we offer are valued by industry. At Leyden, we offer just over thirty different credentials for students to earn. We have worked hard with our industry partners to ensure that these are valued outside of education.
For example, students in our Technology Pathway work towards their CompTia A+ Certification. This has been called the “gold standard” by our technology advisory council members. It all but guarantees entry-level employment in the field. Students in our Metals Program work towards the industry-recognized National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credential. This is a task usually reserved for postsecondary programs. Leyden is only one of four high schools in the state of Illinois to be NIMS accredited. Students in our Education and Childcare pathway earn their Early Childhood Education - Level 1, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome certificate and Shaken Baby Syndrome certificate. This combination again has proven itself as highly sought after in candidates.
Industry reflective equipment can be expensive. We have learned to use our industry partners to help make this equipment accessible. The simplest way is to ask our industry partners for funds when there is a need. We have found that once a positive relationship is built, companies are willing to help fund equipment. This is especially true if these same companies helped identify the need for the equipment as part of an advisory council. Additionally, our local companies know where to write grants. By being so highly involved in their field, they can easily spot opportunities that educators would never find on their own. Even with small things, our community members have lobbied their vendors on our behalf. This has allowed for free or greatly reduced rates. The end result is that our students get to learn on the best equipment available!
These relationships have helped prepare the next generation of employees for high-demand, high-wage careers. Over the years this relationship has resulted in the workforce of some local companies being made up of over 40 percent Leyden graduates. This video from A1 Tool, a local manufacturing company, highlights the strong relationship between the Leyden High Schools and local businesses.
One of our district goals is that Leyden “will create confident problem solvers through relevant and authentic experiences.” We do not want our students to simply answer questions in a book. If we expect our students to solve problems in the world, we need to give them opportunities to solve real, authentic problems in and out of our classrooms. We are fortunate to have such generous community partners that continue to break down and redefine the concept of a “classroom.”
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