Program aims at creating workforce

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 19, 1999

When Mike Schoepf took the reigns as the school-to-work coordinator in Albert Lea, he realized some people just have the wrong perception of the program.

Sunday, September 19, 1999

When Mike Schoepf took the reigns as the school-to-work coordinator in Albert Lea, he realized some people just have the wrong perception of the program.

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Perhaps the problem is in the name, he said. To some, school-to-work implies a career just after high school, but that’s not entirely accurate.

&uot;Ultimately, we hope people will go to college and earn their degrees,&uot; said Schoepf, who was hired as the district’s school-to-work coordinator this year. &uot;It’s assumed when they’re finished with college, or vocational school they will be ready to work.

&uot;We want them, all learners, to be productive citizens, earning livable wages,&uot; he added. &uot;Our goal is to convince people that school-to-work

isn’t vocational education. My philosophy is when you stop learning, you stop living.&uot;

If the misperception continues, he said he might even consider changing the program’s name.

The new coordinator

A long-time substitute teacher in the district, Schoepf said he accepted the position because it links his business and education experiences; Schoepf has also worked in the newspaper and telecommunication fields. He takes over the position from Jeanette Beamer, who continues to teach in the district.

The half-time position also allows him to continue leading a tutoring program for struggling students he helped start at Southwest Junior High School last spring.

&uot;School-to-work programs are all ideas I used in the classroom, newspaper and telecommunication industries,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve been a teacher for six years and was in business for six years. It ties together my business and education careers.&uot;

He will continue to lean on Beamer for support, and will develop some new programs.

One, he said, will give teachers an answer to the perennial question, &uot;Why do we need to know this?&uot;

He plans to implement a mentoring program that will partner business people and teachers. In each class, a mentor within the business community would explain in, for instance, a weekly report how he used different skills during the week.

&uot;We want to give a classroom teacher working world examples of the practical use of subject manner,&uot; he explained. &uot;We would pair up business people with teachers. It would give teachers the answer.&uot;

As the new coordinator, he said he will also continue to seek business partnerships and mentor programs in the community; the program was founded partially because employers realized that many graduates lacked the motivation required in the work force.

And, to prepare learners for productive lives is the fundamental mission of public education, he said.

Providing workers

While he said the public education system in this country is the best in the world, graduating &uot;the best educated people ever,&uot; public education can go further in preparing learners for work lives. School-to-work doesn’t add curriculum, but a variety of ways to teach the same subject manner, including experience and career paths.

&uot;Employers have been telling us for years that what we provided them in terms of graduates isn’t good enough for today’s work force,&uot; he said. &uot;A lot of values aren’t what they used to be, and one of these is motivation.

&uot;I’m not going to pretend that we will motivate every unmotivated kid,&uot; he added. &uot;But if we expose every learner in this district to the working world on a regular basis, it will help some. They will learn, ‘what I’m learning in school will help me succeed in the working world.’&uot;

Beginning in elementary school and as part of graduation standards, students are first exposed to different &uot;concepts,&uot; including touring area farms recently.

Math, language arts, technology, science and history skills are stressed throughout the education system.

When they reach middle school, they start exploring different fields of work. In junior high, they continue exploring careers and must pick a career path in the ninth-grade. The paths include a mix of related jobs.

They can change their path in high school, but parents, students and educators document their progress in class selections.

&uot;Their folder lists all of the work they’ve done to prepare for a career,&uot; Schoepf said, adding students also gain real-life experiences in the work force with tutoring and job shadowing programs. &uot;We stress self-assessments.&uot;

It may seem like too much pressure, but there is room for mistakes. In high school, 40 credits are required for graduation. Including summers, students can earn as many as 65 credits, allowing for career path changes.

&uot;I don’t think we’re putting on as much pressure as society and businesses are,&uot; he said. &uot;There is always pressure. We all have that. Everybody has to work. By forcing people to think about that early, we’re hoping they get the message early.&uot;

But while the role of local educators is crucial in developing motivated workers as well as productive citizens, Schoepf said businesses also have a role in attracting employees.

Business responsibility

Once businesses trained employees for their positions and as recently as 1950 only 48 percent of workers had a high school diploma. A diploma wasn’t required to earn a livable wage, Schoepf said.

Now, education is becoming more important and offers workers mobility; they don’t have to work in the same town they grew up in, he said. Financial opportunities exist elsewhere.

He said school-to-work is a partner in the process of readying people for work, but it’s employers’ responsibility to keep workers.

Albert Lea has a lot to offer in quality of life and scenery, but the other piece of attracting workers is livable wages.

&uot;The big piece that might be a potential problem is livable wages,&uot; he said of the situation in Albert Lea. &uot;This is something that is real important to me.

&uot;I believe in what I’m doing enough to make it work,&uot; he added. &uot;What we’re trying to do is tie together the education system and the heads of the business community.&uot;