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Schools studied as model

March 21, 2000|By DON AINES

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Cartoon buffoon Homer Simpson may not be the model of a dedicated employee, but he can serve as the starting point for a discussion of the requirements for a job in a nuclear power plant, Fulton County School-to-Work Coordinator Diane Palmer said.

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Fulton County's use of such techniques to get young students thinking about careers a decade away has caught the eye of the National School-to-Work program.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization, a joint venture between the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education, has named the county one of 12 that will be studied as a model for schools nationwide.

There are more than 1,000 such programs across the country and 59 in Pennsylvania. All rely on partnerships between schools and businesses in their areas.

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"TV Characters at Work" is just one method used in Fulton schools to get elementary students thinking about careers, Palmer said.

"Individually, or in teams, they list television characters and their careers and then discuss them," she said.

Other examples of television characters at work include heavy equipment operator Fred Flintstone and newspaper reporter Clark Kent.

Ken Thuli, a senior researcher with National School to Work, said site visits such as the one at Fulton will help the organization determine the best ways to turn out career-oriented graduates.

Each partnership is supposed to include a school-based component, work-based component and connecting activities, according to Judith Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the national office.

"It's really about local partnerships ... coming together to help kids test-drive jobs and careers," Gilbert said. "It's about businesses having a say in what makes schools work."

The 12 partnerships selected for case profiles are in six states, Thuli said. In all, 1,009 partnerships have been developed in 34 states since Congress passed the National Schools-to-Work Opportunities Act in 1994.

When Southern Fulton, Central Fulton and Forbes Road school districts students reach seventh grade, they are exposed to mini-courses, videos and career presentations, Palmer said. H.B. Mellott Inc. for several years has adopted eighth-grade classes, with monthly assemblies on different career opportunities, she said.

Ninth- and 10th-graders participate in Career Day at the county fairgrounds with employers showcasing what they offer and the skills they require, Palmer said.

"The kids do an interest inventory and then do job shadowing" in the 11th grade, Palmer said. "If they want to be an engineer, we hook them up with the engineering department of JLG Industries," which makes aerial work platforms, she said.

That includes job applications, interviews, observing what happens in a business and written reports, she said.

High schools seniors concentrate on the post-secondary educational requirements for different careers. "They have to learn what it takes to accomplish their career goals," Palmer said.

The Educator in the Workplace program allows teachers to spend a week with a business, even if it is not related to their courses, Palmer said. School to Work is involved with most of the county's major businesses for both students and teachers, she said.

School-to-Work is voluntary for districts, but the federal government provides seed money for five years. Funding in Fulton County ends Sept. 30, according to Palmer.

She said the program is working to create an endowment from local businesses to fund it at about $45,000 a year.

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