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Expect More, Partner for Change

It’s a question every teacher has heard: “When will I use this in real life?”

Brayden likely asked this question during his time at Southside High School. He wanted to do well in school and to work and live in Independence County. He struggled in school because he didn’t know the answer. He couldn’t see how what he was learning connected to the life he wanted. When Brayden found his answer, he showed what every Arkansan can accomplish given the right direction.

The answer is different for everyone. When students understand how education connects to their futures, they are motivated to learn in school and graduate prepared for work. We need to get better at helping students see how what they learn applies to future jobs. We need more Arkansans to expect more.

It’s time to partner for change. Business leaders can help students find their answer by forming partnerships with educators. In Independence County, they are giving students like Brayden the tools to tackle this question head on. Project Future Story is a partnership among local businesses and Southside School District, the University of Arkansas Community College Batesville (UACCB) and Lyon College. Together, they are supporting students as they gain the skills and education local employers need.

Brayden is one example of why Project Future Story was created. After he discovered an interest in welding at Southside, a program sponsored by Bad Boy Mowers at UACCB enabled him to take advanced welding classes. Teachers and community leaders empowered Brayden to connect his education to career goals. While still in high school, Brayden started a part-time job at Bad Boy. By the time he graduated, he earned a certificate in industrial technology and secured a full-time job at Bad Boy where in his first year he took home $39,000 after taxes.

Without Project Future Story, Brayden says, “I wouldn’t be going to school, probably be working a dead-end job.” Instead, he has purchased his first home at age 19 and is on a bright career path. With college credit under his belt, he’s prepared to continue his education if he chooses. His story is just one of many in Independence County where business leaders have partnered with educators to help more students figure out how education connects to real life. 

For students who want to continue their education in college, UACCB’s partnership with Southside School District makes concurrent college credit more affordable. Together, they are creating a system where students acquire degrees and certificates that match local employers’ needs. Businesses offer more opportunities through internships and jobs. Lyon College has created a seamless transfer process into four-year programs and reduced tuition for UACCB graduates. Now, a Southside student can get on-the-job experience while in high school and earn a bachelor’s degree at a fraction of the price.

Through Project Future Story, students are prepared from the first day of preschool to the first day on the job. They graduate ready to start college or to start working in fields like industrial technology, health care, education and computer information systems.

Has the investment been worth it for businesses? Ask Scott Lancaster, general counsel for Bad Boy Mowers. “We get to pick and choose who we want as opposed to having to settle,” he says. What’s worked for Bad Boy can work elsewhere, Lancaster says. “Work with a school,” he says. “Get that first employee that fits this new profile. Better educated, better motivated.”

According to the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s (WRF) report Expect More Arkansas: Our Jobs, Our Future, there are 1.6 million jobs in Arkansas now, and a half million more coming in the next decade. The bad news is 70 percent of the jobs currently available require a high school diploma or less. More Arkansans have to earn certificates or degrees after high school. If we don’t, the majority of jobs in Arkansas’ future will continue to be low-skill and provide low wages.

It’s time to partner for change. It’s time to make sure more Arkansans have the skills employers need.

WRF launched Expect More Arkansas because we believe partnerships like Project Future Story will produce fewer students who ask, “When will I use this in real life?” When they do, the entire community has answers. Together with business leaders, educators and policymakers, we are sharing what it takes to train, attract and retain a skilled workforce in Arkansas to increase prosperity for all employers and residents.

Learn more and join the Expect More movement at expectmorenow.org.