Podcast: Toyota’s unique education partnership

Toyota business leaders didn’t like what they were seeing in the quality of community college and high school graduates applying for their jobs. So the company decided to partner with public schools and colleges as a way to correct that.

Dennis Parker, who helped Toyota become one of only two U.S. business organizations to gain accreditation for its educational programs, talked Friday about his company’s educational mission as part of the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Hot Lunch speakers program.

Parker said the Toyota Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program 
- in partnership with the nonprofit Indianapolis-based Project Lead the Way, which has middle and high school programs in Colorado – is producing community college graduates with the complex set of skills they need to enter its workplace.


The company actively recruits students enrolled at schools that are using the Project Lead the Way curriculum for its specialized program, which is part of local community college systems.

“We only visit a school that has a Project Lead the Way program,” Parker said. “We’ve got to fish in the pond that has the right fish in it.”

Once in the program at Bridgemont Community and Technical College in West Virginia, for example, students learn in a real-world manufacturing setting instead of a typical classroom. They get warnings if they are late for class, and a talking to if they lay their heads down on a desk. They get paid for their work, in addition to earning college credit.

Dennis Parker

The community college program is specifically set up to create a job-ready graduate. Parker said the company realized that U.S. schools were not producing the graduates it needed, compared to other countries. So the company decided to forge partnerships as a way to create the types of courses it believes would better prepare future American workers.

Cathy Lund, vice president and senior director of engagement for Project Lead the Way, said the organization provides its middle and high school curriculum at no cost. However, there are costs tied to required teacher training, technology agreements and equipment, such as a 3D printer.

Lund said seven of the top 10 highest-paying jobs for Generation Y involve engineering or technology. Yet the students coming out of U.S. high schools don’t have the skills they need to get on a track to land those jobs. Colorado, meanwhile, has the third-highest concentration in the nation of high-tech workers, she said.

Project Lead the Way in Colorado

Project Lead the Way’s Gateway to Technology program is in 36 middle Colorado schools. Its biomedical curriculum is offered at 13 Colorado high schools, and its engineering curriculum is offered at 39 Colorado high schools.

“The purpose of education is not solely to educate the workforce,” Lund said. “However, at Project Lead the Way, we think that’s critically important. Too few students are graduating from high school. Too few are persisting in two- and four-year programs.”

Lund said U.S. public schools are doing a good job of getting more kids to reach the right answers. But she said students aren’t learning to think critically, problem solve, work in teams or communicate well.

Project Lead the Way emphasizes three programmatic pillars – world-class curriculum, high-quality professional development and an engaged network, Lund said.

In middle schools, students participate in a nine-week block focusing on design, modeling, automation and robotics, then can choose from a range of topics, including “magic of electrons” or “science of technology.”

At the high school level, students participate in a four-year program culminating with a final project in which students work in a team to identify and solve a real-world engineering problem.

Disclosure: The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a funder of Education News Colorado.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.