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Education program bridges the gap

July 26, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Joan RohrerBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

It's been three decades since Joan Rohrer last had to apply for a job.

A lot has changed.

"It was an eye-opener to go back and be interviewed," said Rohrer, who has taught in the Washington County school system for 30 years. "Just filling out the application was much different."

Rohrer is one of a growing number of teachers in the Tri-State area who are spending part of their summers in the workplace.

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By spending time in the "real world," teachers hope to glean valuable information they can incorporate into their curriculum and pass on to their students. At the same time, employers hope the summer stints will ultimately lead to more marketable graduating students.

"Everybody talks about the ivory tower," said Charles Wainwright, director of the Surrey Child Care Center, where Rohrer is working this week. "This is a chance to get out and really hear our needs."

Rohrer is one of 17 Washington County teachers participating in "Bridging the Gap," a program created this year by Manpower Staffing Services.

Rohrer's students at Boonsboro High School practice writing rsums and filling out applications. From her experience, this summer, Rohrer said she already knows the forms the school uses will have to be updated.

Teachers who participate in "Bridging the Gap" get paid $10 an hour. The first couple of days, they go to a temporary employment agency's office just like any new applicant.

The teachers are interviewed, tested and trained on computers. Then they head out to jobs that match their teaching disciplines.

Rohrer was sent to Surrey because she teaches family and consumer science at Boonsboro High. Last week, she spent three days at the Citicorp Credit Services child care center. Next week, she will be at Washington County Hospital.

"It's been fantastic because I'm working with the children. I see what skills are needed," said Rohrer, who has run into former students who now work at the places she has visited.

For years, teachers have spent part of the summer learning new teaching techniques, modifying curriculum or other staff development. It is still a staple of education systems.

But increasingly, teachers are also spending time observing various companies. It is a process supporters think will give teachers and their students a better understanding of the skills and work habits needed to succeed in the modern economy.

"Businesses had a feeling that many of today's teachers might not have a clear idea of what the business world is like today," said Manpower President Bob Jeffers, who chaired an education task force for the Greater Hagerstown Committee.

"Being at the job site is a big advantage," he said.

Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District Superintendent Robert Mesaros said connecting teaching to real life has gained more of an emphasis.

"I think what it boils down to is it shows students - and teachers - the relevance of the curriculum," he said. "The more relevant you can make anything for a student, it follows that the student will learn better."

This year, the Waynesboro district has seven teachers participating in "Educator in the Workplace," a program sponsored by the Franklin County School-to-Work Partnership.

The organization, which is funded by a state grant, helped place 52 Franklin County teachers with employers this summer, up from 18 during the first year of the program last year.

Tammy Stouffer, the partnership's coordinator, said teachers are paid a $400 stipend for the five days they spend on the job.

"It's the age-old concept of when am I ever going to use algebra again?" she said.

The Berkeley County (W.Va.) school system also is moving toward giving teachers a heightened understanding of the business world.

Frank Aliveto, assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction, said the system plans to set up tours of local businesses for teachers beginning this fall.

Aliveto said it is crucial for teachers to understand and keep up with the technological changes that have gripped businesses over the last 20 years.

"It just wasn't emphasized years ago First-hand knowledge, of course, is so important," he said. "I'm sure GM is much more technologically advanced than they were 20 years ago."

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