Soon the discussions expanded to include the importance of entrepreneurship, problem-solving, and innovation through systems, services, and institutions. Superintendent Bissetta and others observed that innovation in public education often trails behind future-ready adaptation in business and community development, although creative and timely opportunities are no less important for our students, and of value to our region.
As these conversations expanded, so did the number of those around the table. In weekly meetings held consistently since mid-2015, a core group of educators, businesspersons, and community leaders have been sharing a table in an Oxford Academy conference room. On any given Wednesday around 12:30 pm, you may find a mayor or two, several public school administrators, leadership from CORE (Career Opportunities in Rural Education), a networker from Commerce Chenango, women in business, community leaders, students, or DCMO BOCES staff who work in special programs. They're doing things.
IC2's first long-term project was the Innovation Series, a two-year schedule of monthly entrepreneurship events and workshops for students, the extended school community, and the public. Presentations featured keynote speakers including NFL greats Floyd A. Little and Reggie Smith, a Pitch Night for emerging entrepreneurs, and a schedule of related workshops held in partnership with the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. Presenters often included local leaders, businesspersons, and expert professionals who know our region. It was all there -- inspiration, access to tools for building a new business, an array of resources to answer your questions, and student-specific guidance -- and it was all relevant to growing economic development in our region.
Oxford academy + pharmassist: teaching science, growing a workforce
Problem or opportunity? Oxford Academy wants to equip students with an education that goes beyond basic science to include real-life applications and career-ready skills. PharmAssist, an international pharmaceutical services company with headquarters in New Berlin, NY, needs a skilled workforce to meet its expansion goals.
Connections made through IC2 led to a unique collaboration.
Steve Palmatier, Workforce Economic Development Liaison for Commerce Chenango, introduced Oxford Academy to Dr. Jeffrey Evans, CEO of PharmAssist, Inc. Science teacher Mark Muller brought in Dr. Laurel Southard and Dr. Florianna Blanton of the Cornell Institute of Biology Teachers. Together, they're making something new.
Jointly prepared laboratory science modules--grade-appropriate kits whose lesson plans and supplies teach students the science behind the practice of chemistry and biotechnology--are now available to any science teacher in our area. They include experiments that teachers can offer in any area classroom, and content that mirrors real-life applications happening in companies right now. The experiments teach students how to arrive at new knowledge about what they're testing, which is a job skill that companies are looking for in new hires.
"at pharmassist, we trade in knowledge. we take that very seriously and that's why this program is so important to us. we have to develop thinkers, and more importantly than just developing thinkers, we have to develop those with a passion to make a difference in the world."--Dr. Jeffrey Evans, CEO, Pharmassist
It's time to stay alert and aware, and ready to embrace change and disruption as opportunities for our community's growth, participants concluded. It's time to step out of the trenches and build bridges for work and communication throughout all sectors of our community. By listening to conversations happening within businesses, schools, nonprofits, agencies, organizations, and government, we can all be more effective at problem-solving and community development. We work better when we do not work in isolation.
An important outcome was discussion about project discovery and overlap. Participants looked at where organizations and institutions are working on similar challenges so that activity is cooperative, effort isn't redundant, and communication is clear.
For example, Shawn Bissetta of Oxford Academy was invited by Elizabeth Monaco, Executive Director of Chenango United Way, to join their Education Committee. Now they, along with Cindy Buerkle of the DCMO BOCES School Library System and others, are working on bringing the Campaign for Grade Level Reading to the area. This research-based, reading proficiency initiative was a long-time goal of Oxford Academy teacher Anita Sitarski but it required community participation to launch -- all of which is now on its way.
Now in its third year, Oxford's Work-Based Learning Program started by Kevin Gilroy (retired) and currently led by coordinator/teacher Craig Tefft is a General Education Work Experience Program registered with the New York State Education Department, and is intended to help students' entry into careers and the workforce through a combination of classroom and work site learning, with wages.
This program is not a replacement for BOCES and CTE credits. Instead of focusing on a single career track, students learn transferrable employability skills, examine their interests and research careers, and expand on basic skills like resume building, job searching, and soft skills required by employers in every workplace.
A generous grant from the R. C. Smith Foundation provided student wage reimbursement that was administered by Commerce Chenango. Their contribution made it easier for new employers to enter the program and help new student workers, some of whom were starting their very first jobs.
"IN MY OPINION, FUNDING THIS PROGRAM IS ONE OF THE BEST, IF NOT _THE_ BEST, USE OF [R.C. SMITH FOUNDATION] FUNDS EXPENDED OVER THE YEARS...YOU HAVE THE DEDICATED STAFF THAT GOT THIS STARTED AND NURTURED IT...YOU HAVE ADMINISTRATORS COMMITTED TO STARTING AND CONTINUING THE PROGRAM. WE'VE HAD A GROUP OF OUTSTANDING EMPLOYERS WHO WELCOMED STUDENTS AND PROVIDED A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT TO HELP THEM LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD OF WORK AND WHAT REAL LIFE IS LIKE OUT THERE. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST YOU HAVE STUDENTS WHO HAVE REALLY TAKEN SOME RISKS TO COME INTO A NEW PROGRAM AND LEARN WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE IN A WORKPLACE. I COMMEND YOU ALL." -- GARY BROOKINS, DIRECTOR, R.C. SMITH FOUNDATION, speaking at the year-end employers' breakfast
At the third annual Oxford Academy Work-Based Learning Program Employer Breakfast, students and employers met to celebrate the program's successes. This year 18 students found jobs in 12 program workplaces, and worked a combined 3,519 hours throughout the school year. Some students have been asked to remain on staff through the summer, and hopefully beyond.
Additionally, an anonymous donor provided two $250 Work-Based Learning Program Success Awards to be given to two graduating seniors. This year's recipients were Mark Drewniak, employed by Blueox Energy Products and Services, and Bailee Marotta, employed by the Oxford After School Program.
Mark Drewniak was at the heart of one of the program's most notable success stories. Although a new employee and a student, Mark stepped up to be a major player in a computer system upgrade by Blueox Energy Products and Services, his employer. Mark's computer skills and excellent work ethic were critical to the success of the upgrade, said company co-owner David Emerson. It was so successful that Blueox asked Mark to remain on staff through the summer till he leaves for college to study business.
2017-2018 WORK-BASED LEARNING PROGRAM EMPLOYERS
This program is growing because of the valued participation by so many of our area's most notable businesses and organizations. This year's employer partners include Oxford's After School Program and the following:
"Going in i wasn't expecting to learn as much as i did. i learned to make a resume, do public speaking, and learned more about what careers to get into. i wasn't expecting all those things. and when it comes to the working environment, i didn't realize how different each workplace is. besides learning how to balance three plates on my arm, i also learned that talking to people in the workplace is different from talking to your friends." -- Jourdan Pinney
What do you want to do after you graduate?
That's a question students hear all the time, but it's rare when one is confidently able to answer, and even rarer when students know what steps they need to prepare for the next leg in their journey to productive adulthood.
At Oxford Academy an evolving, umbrella Pathways Plus Program -- named "Plus" because it's quite different from pathways to graduation commonly described by the NYS Education Department-- is leading the way to student self-discovery and available career choices. Through flexible scheduling available at any time in the school year, students can dive into personalized learning with an interdisciplinary team of seven Oxford Academy educators and an array of business/career partners to begin planning their futures.
- Students first work on self-assessment using tools that help build an interest inventory and awareness of how they spend their time.
- Career clusters are explored, and early inklings of future opportunities are brought into focus.
- Working with the Pathways Team of teachers, students cultivate web skills to build personal websites, begin archiving their best work in all their other classes, and take steps toward active career development.
- After choosing a pathway (art? engineering? horticulture? law enforcement? manufacturing? municipal services? health care? aviation? gerontology and geriatrics? psychology? sociology? veterinary science? something else?), students may work on targeted projects depending on where they are in the program.
- Contact with professionals and programs in their careers of interest take exploration off the page (or computer screen) and in to the real world.
They also learn about the hundreds of jobs available right now throughout Chenango and contiguous counties. A significant number of opportunities -- some require college, some don't -- are backed by employers looking for informed, equipped students ready to enter the workforce.
personalized learning happens right here
Because this is personalized learning, the Pathways Plus trajectory looks different for each student. In 2017-2018 one student keenly interested in business started working in a local company through the Work-Based Learning Program. One interested in aviation accomplished early flight training and learned more about the many careers connected both directly and indirectly to aviation. Another curious about urban planning worked with Oxford Mayor Terry Stark on a strategic plan for the village. Three students leaning toward manufacturing worked with Steve Palmatier, Workforce Economic Development Liaison with Commerce Chenango, to plan, design, and build display materials used by students in their year-end career presentations.
A group of students worked with Christine Long, an Oxford Academy social studies and Pathways Plus Team teacher, to record interviews with resident volunteers living in the New York State Veterans' Home at Oxford. Those interviews are now housed at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.: https://archive.storycorps.org/user/4cls/
This opportunity was part of StoryCorps, a nonprofit that since 2003 has become one of the largest born-digital collections of interviews and conversations. Technology needed to complete the project came from a Four County Library System outreach grant funded by the BOOKS Program now administed by NYS Senator Fred Akshar.
For weeks Ms. Long helped students prepare for the interviews. "We worked with our iPads to manipulate the technology, chose good interview questions, ordered the questions so the conversation would have good flow, and practiced interviewing one another," she explained.
Students walked away with new appreciation for our senior citizens and veterans, they told us. In a society where not everyone has the opportunity to spend time with elders, these students learned more about aging, history, social services, the military, and more. Benefits to the veterans interviewed were also clear: students gave them time and attention.
PATHWAYS PLUS ANNUAL EXPO
In May, the public was invited to an Expo held at Oxford Academy to learn more about Pathways Plus. Visitors heard an introduction to the Team, more about pathway opportunities that start as early as primary school (LEGO engineering!), and more about students' career research.
Students stood ready to provide individual presentations reflecting research about their chosen careers. Using the "poster session" model common to post-graduate and higher education, students talked with Expo visitors about their fields of interest, and frequently learned new information during the conversations that followed.
The inaugural Legacy Award was also presented to Jackie Murrer (Class of 2017), the first student to enter the Pathways Plus program. This award is given to a student whose projects provide lasting benefit to the school community. In Jackie's case, she established opportunities for leadership through expansion of SADD and a Leadership Council, and served as the first student member of IC2.
At the end of the year, five students in Pathways Plus changed their minds about their career interests...and that's a win. Getting informed now means they are less likely to waste money on college majors and training that won't work out. Try a new path!
Next steps for students still on track and not yet graduated:
- start a one- or two-year plan through Pathways Plus
- work with teachers and guidance to ensure you're taking the right classes to prepare for college admission or technical training
- plug into the right networks and professional organizations
- advance your contacts and discovery
- choose next year's mini-courses to explore more options
- where appropriate, start earning publicly shareable digital badges and microcredentials that show your specific skills and knowledge, and open doors to academic and career oppportunities
- connect with community resources to help you learn what your thing is, and do more of it.
A Keynote Address to open RoboRAVE New York featured special guests Russ Fisher-Ives (Director, RoboRAVE International), Joseph Minafra (NASA's Lead of Innovation and Technical Partnerships for the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute [SSERVI]), and Chendra Garikipati (Program Manager for Glaucoma Innovation at Carl Zeiss Meditec and founder, the N2 Cafe platform and the Village to Valley program in India).
Community participation included very generous sponsors, plus some anonymous donors, who together supported the event and funded prizes. Thanks were extended to the Oxford Fire Department, Elks Club, Preferred Mutual, Bartle's Pharmacy, The Community Foundation of South Central New York, R.C. Smith Foundation, Blueox Energy Products and Services, NYCM Insurance, Golden Artist Colors, Dunkin' Donuts, Walking Ridge Development, Thompson Bros. Inc., NBT Bank, and the Oxford Academy, Otselic Valley, and Unadilla Valley Central School Districts.
Others from the community donated time as Track Monitors on competition day. They observed and certified the robotics challenge outcomes for all teams.
Roborave New York IN 2018-2019
October 20, 2018, 8 am - 3 pm, Oxford Academy High School gym: RoboRAVE RALLY, a free day of robotics play on challenge mats set up at Oxford Academy. Try the challenges. Work together on problem-solving. Experiment with robots already on site. Ask helpers for guidance. Get ready for competition.
April 5/6, 2019: RoboRAVE New York 2019 hosted by Oxford Academy. We're expecting teams from France, Colombia, Mexico, and Canada, as well as area participants!
An after-school LEGO Club at Oxford Academy is now in its second year, and growing. Led by teacher Jon Carey with support from an array of helping teachers and volunteers, this primary school program has expanded from 60 to about 150 students. Organizers sourced used LEGOs for cleaning and repackaging for student use, and grants from the Chenango Arts Council enabled the purchase of specialized LEGO kits.
Art show guests were invited to play at a Free Build station, check out LEGOs used to write in Binary Code, and take a seat in the Ever Blocks chair built by students. These huge LEGO pieces were obtained thanks to a grant by Grants for Teachers Program administered by the Chenango Arts Council, and made possible by donations from Golden Artist Colors, Community Bank, Walmart, ACCO Brands, Patricia Giltner, and Friends of the Chenango Arts Council.
Oxford Village Mayor Terry Stark, shown here before talking to Oxford Academy 4th graders about local government and good citizenship, is a frequent participant in IC2 initiatives. You can find him in the classroom answering candid questions, leading the IC2 annual planning and review meeting, working with a student in the Pathways Plus program whose interests spanned urban planning and sociology, sharing Oxford municipal hiring projections, brainstorming with IC2 partners about regional economic development, and integrating student input into village strategic planning.
Assemblyman Clifford W. Crouch, shown here at RoboRAVE New York with Oxford Academy's SRO Cole Samsel, has visited IC2-inspired projects at Oxford Academy, and helped the school obtain a grant to support continued innovation on behalf of students.
“I have always been impressed with the innovative projects and events coming out of Oxford Academy Central School District,” said Crouch. “The students, community, and local businesses all benefit so much from its programs. I was more than happy to assist them in obtaining a $13,000 state grant as I know it will be utilized to strengthen and enhance student experiences.”
6 On the Square, a local nonprofit music and arts venue located on Lafayette Park in the middle of downtown Oxford, hosts the annual Oxford Academy student art show, featuring artwork curated by Oxford Academy art educators in the primary, middle and high schools. 6 On the Square is also in talks with Pathways Plus organizers to enable music and arts career exploration that aligns with 6OTS resources. They also offer an extremely low cost ($2) ticket price to students so they can hear performing artists on national tours who stop in Oxford for its always comfortable, warm welcome and intimate performance space.
Commerce Chenango has been a ready, steady presence around IC2 initiatives: from weekly representation at meetings, to the Chenango Foundation's administration of employer reimbursement through R.C. Smith Foundation funds for the Work-Based Learning Program, to event participation by the chamber's leadership and membership, and more.
Schools and leadership from other communities are sharing in the IC2 approach to education + business + community innovation. Recent contributions from Bainbridge Mayor Philip Wade and Bainbridge Central School District Superintendent Tim Ryan have been interesting and helpful.
IC2 has also taken their work "on the road." At the invitation of Grayson Stevens, then-Interim Superintendent of the Otselic Valley Central School District, IC2 participants traveled to S. Otselic with a meeting agenda and project overview tailored to that school's interests. (Shown here: teacher/coordinator Jon Carey recorded a short video about the LEGO Club for OV, where plans are in place to expand their after-school program with more STEM and creativity choices for students.)
Through content created within a network of area educators and businesses, students will be able to get a publicly shareable, digital credential that records their proficiency in a wide range of skills and understanding. The badges students choose to pursue can be accessed by colleges and universities (now used by an estimated 1 in 5 higher education institutions, including MIT) and potential employers. Each digital badge will demonstrate that students who earned them have done more, learned more, and are positioned for advancement.
In a series of badge trainings, Oxford Academy educators have begun building badges covering a range of skills from persuasive writing to public speaking. Potential employers and universities accessing these earned badges will see significant detail about what students have mastered, including employable skills.
Upcoming training with area employers through Commerce Chenango will inform the development of business- and industry-specific badges. Their content will reflect skills relevant to the businesses of the region, and their language will bridge the sometimes separate lexicons used by education and business. Where vocabulary is an impediment (what's a rubric?), we can work through the challenges to arrive on the same page.
Not all badges are created equal. Their range will allow students of all ages -- even as early as primary school -- to begin earning a record of their increasing achievements. Their order of difficulty will be meaningful and accessible to the data that's "baked in" to the badge when its details are viewed online.
What, exactly, does a particular badge mean to a potential employer or scholarship grantor? They'll know.