Teachers Tour Local Businesses and Industries to Connect Classrooms to Careers

Teachers Tour Local Businesses and Industries to Connect Classrooms to Careers

On Friday, March 17, 2023, thirty-nine Stephens County middle school and high school teachers, counselors, and administrators exchanged their Teacher Workday for a chance to participate in a Discovery Tour of area businesses and industries to “Connect Classrooms to Careers.” Sponsored by Georgia Power and through a partnership between the Stephens County Development Authority, Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce, Stephens County School System, and Stephens County High School’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program, participants visited Bowen & Watson Construction, ASI Southeast, Sark Wire, Stephens County Hospital, and Patterson Pump.

Jason Jones, of ASI Southeast, Inc. in Eastanollee, walks local educators through the restroom partition and locker manufacturing facility during the 2023 Discovery Tour. Pictured (L-R) are Jones, Ben Menard, SCHS special education co-teacher, Amanda Powell, SCMS math teacher, Cindy Perkins, SCHS math teacher, Jim Allen, SCMS special education teacher, Joni Whitfield, 5th Grade Academy principal, Sheila Pressley, Toccoa Elementary principal, and Paul Bellamy, SCMS math teacher (Photo courtesy of April James)

In addition to the walk-through tours, the daylong event included a bus ride through the county’s industrial parks directed by Brittany Ivey, President and CEO of the Stephens County Development Authority, and Julie Paysen, President of the Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce.

“The day was about connecting education with local businesses,” says Dr. Connie Franklin, Superintendent of the Stephens County School System. “Teachers need to know what jobs are available in our community and the skills needed to do these jobs  to teach students the importance of what they are learning in class and how it applies to future careers.”

“While the teachers need to know what skills are needed for the workforce, local industries need to know what our educators are teaching in the classrooms to better prepare students for the workforce as well,” says Ivey. This whole day was about connections.”

One of the recurring themes throughout the day was that local industries are hiring, and offering Stephens County High School graduates good-paying jobs and the required training right out of high school with hopes that they will stay and work here.

According to Paysen, “It was a great opportunity to educate our teachers. You feed high school baseball teams by coaching them in t-ball. Same here. You feed the local workforce by exposing students to possible careers while in school.  We understand the tremendous influence our teachers have on our students, and we want to help make sure our educators have the tools they need to encourage their students to consider career choices in our community. Our local industries are always happy to share their stories and the career pathways they have available.”

“We train employees to stay,” says Stephen Wallace, a graduate of Stephens County High School, who has been employed at ASI for 10 years and currently serves as the Manufacturing Manager.  President and General Manager of Patterson Pump, Kerby Pope agreed and stated that Patterson hires employees with the philosophy of “hire to retire.” Pope said, “Young talent is very adaptable. If we don’t know how to direct them, someone else will.” Patterson offers its employees a robust health and wellness program as well as on-the-job training and advanced education. “If you want to get good at something, you’ve got to be better than anyone else.”

According to Deborah Block, Chief Nursing Officer at Stephens County Hospital, there are many careers available in local healthcare from clinicians to support staff. “We employ the people who take care of the patients and those who take care of those who take care of the patients.” Pam Hill, director of the SCHS CTAE program, says “more than 50 high school students have been given the opportunity to job shadow at the hospital while working on their certification in the phlebotomy and CNA programs.”

Bowen and Watson President, Drew Watson talks to Erica Martin, a technical education teacher at Stephens County Middle School, and Jeff Lovegrove, a drafting instructor at Stephens County High School about the engineering software used by the commercial construction company. (Photo courtesy of April James.)

“Many of our local industries are hiring and would hire 30-40 more people right now if we had the workforce and the housing needed to accommodate them,” adds Paysen.  “There are 2300 manufacturing jobs in Stephens County with more than 300 available jobs within local industries alone. Our community still has room for growth without the worry of too much strain on the local hospital and school system.”

The event was also an opportunity for teachers to see their students working in local industries as part of the SCHS Work-based Learning program. According to ASI Southeast’s Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Doug Hitchon, “We really appreciate the Work-Based Learning students from SCHS. We couldn’t have handpicked better students to work for us. They pay attention and are willing to learn and are safety conscious. The quality of students you are sending to us is phenomenal.” Most of the managers who led the tour groups were graduates of Stephens County High School and many local companies offer summer internships and job shadowing opportunities for high school students as well. Keith Watson, Chairman, and Drew Watson, President, of Bowen & Watson talked about how their firm offers a variety of career opportunities as well as full and part-time internships to gain hands-on experience in the many phases of commercial construction.

“I really enjoyed the Discovery Tour,” says Chad Sorrells, an eighth-grade science teacher at Stephens County Middle School.  “It opened my eyes to how many businesses there are in Stephens County.  A lot of the technology that I observed fits perfectly into the 8th-grade standards.  Just this morning, our topic was electricity and I used examples of Sark Wire to talk about conductors and insulators.  I was able to describe how an industry in our community takes a copper wire and manufactures it to be used in extension cords, marine wiring, medical wiring, and other needs.  I was also impressed by the technology that ASI and Patterson Pump use to manufacture their products through CNC machines, lasers, and computer programming.”

Ivey added, “On behalf of the Stephens County Development Authority, we are so grateful for our partnerships that made the Discovery Tour possible this year.  The funding that Georgia Power so graciously provided allowed us to orchestrate an incredible event for members of our local school system.  The Toccoa-Stephens County Chamber of Commerce and the Stephens County School System were instrumental in helping our office plan the logistics of the day.  We are so grateful for a school system that sees the importance of ensuring that our educators know the opportunities available in our community to our future workforce, who are currently our local students, and for their willingness to let us utilize a teacher work day.  To our local businesses, industries, and the hospital, we thank you for allowing us to come into your workplace with 39 local educators to ensure that when they return to their classrooms, they are prepared to connect students to careers right here in Toccoa-Stephens County.”  

Organizers plan to make this an annual event, visiting different businesses and industries while giving more local educators an opportunity to participate. Thank you to the 39 members of the Stephens County School System for spending your day learning more about career opportunities available to your students in our community.  

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