Companies pose real-world challenges to students

MARIETTA – Pose a question to a student about when a train leaving New Orleans will arrive in Atlanta and teachers may get the sort of unenthusiastic response youth have offered to those word problems for decades.

But ask students how to deal with the real-world shortage of a drug needed for important medical testing or what ways persistent tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace can be addressed and educators can see a different reaction.

“They get really into helping,” said Dion Prunty, a sixth-grade language arts and math teacher at Marietta Middle School. “These are real-life things that are happening today. What can you do to solve it?”

Bringing those scenarios into the classroom to generate interest among students and give them an idea of how what they’re studying can be used in the local workplace is the goal of a series of professional development activities for Marietta City Schools teachers this week. Under the Building Bridges to Careers initiative, local businesses sent representatives to meet with educators Tuesday at the district office to brainstorm ways to link the curriculum with the working world.

“Obviously, it’s for the good and knowledge of the kids, so we’re glad to help,” said Donn Schafer, president and CEO of Settlers Bank in Marietta. “(This is a) good program to try to keep kids interested in staying in Marietta even after high school and college.”

Schafer met with a group of middle school teachers during the morning session, and they discussed finance-related issues that could serve as teaching scenarios for students, like budgeting, financial forecasting and determining how much of one’s paycheck can go toward renting or buying a home.

Middle school social studies teacher Pam Hart said it was beneficial since state standards require her to include financial literacy in the eighth-grade curriculum.

“Some of them are going to have to figure out how am I going to get enough money for a down payment on a house or … how am I going to pay rent?” she said.

The technique was used by some teachers in the last school year, but Tuesday’s workshop with five local businesses and the upcoming Friday sessions with employees from around the Memorial Health System are aimed at expanding it.

The approach is based on the Future Problem Solvers model, in which students research issues and propose solutions to potential challenges on society’s horizons. But the scenarios teachers are hoping to develop with the help of businesses are set in the here and now, Prunty said.

“We want new types of problem-solving that include 21st century skills,” said Tasha Werry, director of community outreach and collaborative learning practitioner for the district.

In the previous school year, Adam Eichhorn, economics and business teacher at Marietta High School, used a scenario developed by John Whistler, owner of MattressMax in Vienna, W.Va., based on his experience in the mattress manufacturing industry. They sought students’ input on how a large manufacturing company should deal with high rates of absenteeism and tardiness.

“It was kind of fun to watch them work in their groups and some of them kind of open up more,” said Eichhorn, adding that some students felt it was an interesting break from book work.

Whistler said the students approached the scenario differently than he would have, bringing up issues like depression and addiction as possible reasons for the problems.

“When the kids made their presentation, it was very eye-opening for me, because I came at it from my old-man paradigm and 35 years in the business,” he said.

Building Bridges to Careers is a partnership between the district, Washington County Family and Children First and local business to connect students with and prepare them for potential careers, especially those needed in the area.