Martin County school board member Roger Harless gets a little more optimistic when he crosses the county line these days. In addition to the regular “Martin County” road sign, there is another one that reads, “Work Ready Community in Progress.”
“It’s inspiring to me and hopefully it will be the same for our kids,” he said. “It will make a tremendous difference as far as the educational process and what it means, too – not just the students only, but the whole community. It should give our community and our kids a sense of pride.”
At the opposite end of the state, Marshall County school board Chairman Rocky Hudson said his county’s Work Ready Community certification similarly carries a message, “that we’re working as a community, the school system, industry and local government are all working together toward this goal.”
These students from Central Elementary School in Marshall County worked with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources on solutions to stem the invasion of non-native Asian carp into Kentucky Lake – an example of the project-based learning the district hopes will make these students ready to work when they graduate. (Photo courtesy of Marshall County Schools)
Hudson said it’s “extremely important” for students to realize how important it is to be ready to join the workforce, especially those who may not be bound for postsecondary education. As an engineer who has worked both in industry and education, he said he also appreciates that the Work Ready program gives schools and local governments “a chance to hear what industry really would like to see as far as how students are developed.”
Harless said given the declining coal industry and high unemployment in his region, the Work Ready effort “is a great motivator for our students to get prepared in different (career) areas” and to learn what they need to be successful in a job.
Hudson, whose wife, Mary Beth, served on the local Work Ready team, said the program also has helped educators realize the importance of teaching students the soft skills they need for employment. This blends well with the Marshall County district’s new venture into project-based learning, he added.
“Education has typically been content-driven and this provides an outlet for students to learn the soft skills and also to be able to present themselves and their ideas,” Hudson said. “And that goes with Work Ready – the ability to interview, to make presentations when called upon to do so – those are the soft skills that are somewhat lacking.”
Harless said the timing of the Work Ready initiative in Martin County dovetails well with a couple of major changes in the school system: the plans for building a new high school and the launching of an early college academy through Big Sandy Community and Technical College.
“We’re in the process of building a new high school and one of the things that was brought out by our architectural firm was for us to bring in partnerships,” he said. “What we envision is a community learning center with everybody working together to help in the progress of our workforce.”
Despite the area’s economic woes, Harless added, “I think we have got some bright opportunities ahead for our kids if everyone will work together and everyone gets involved. We can accomplish some good things.”