EATON — Preble County Commissioners met with PC Educational Service Center’s Career Connections Director Harold Niehaus on Wednesday, April 13, to discuss a proposed workplace literacy program he and others would like to bring into the county’s schools.
Niehaus told commissioners he was hoping there might be an opportunity to “capture some different dollars that are coming down from the feds with all we’ve experienced with COVID and the pandemic.”
“From a school district standpoint, we know that we’ve struggled,” he said. “We’ve tried to meet the needs of every child as best we can. But with students being online for several months at a time and the attendance that’s been affected by all this families, we’ve seen a reduction of learning over the last year and a half for these kids, and particularly in reading and math. Reading is such a crucial component of the child’s education. And so, as we were thinking about how we can make a difference to get these kids back on track, Shawn (Hoff, ESC Superintendent) and I talked before Christmas break, and there were some opportunities to capture some dollars through the ESC funding that’s coming down through the state to do something that maybe could help our kids get back on track. So we applied through that and did receive a few dollars but it wasn’t as much as we wanted or needed. We do have a few dollars towards this effort already. But it falls short of the overall plan.”
The plan is for grades kindergarten through 12, or K-8th grade, as funding allows, Niehaus noted. Part of the programming is interest level, he said. “You know, everybody has a different interest in what they want to do in life. And that’s one reason that I’ve been asked to be in the role that I’m in as the Career Connections Director, to be able to get kids to think about different opportunities that they could have for a career.”
“And since there’s only one of me and there’s five 5,000 kids in Preble County, it would be probably even helpful the next couple of years because I feel like those kids that have an interest in something, but maybe they don’t see the interest tying to what their schooling is presenting to them. So, if I’m a student that’s interested in agriculture, I’ll read anything about the tractor — but if you give me anything to do with Shakespeare or Where the Red Fern Grows or whatever, I’m probably not going to engage as quickly.
“The idea behind this model, workplace literacy coaching, would be to put more feet on the ground to help the teachers to choose and select students that they know have the potential but haven’t engaged in their education yet because they haven’t engaged with where they want to be in life. If we can start to talk to them individually, have the teachers select those students and say, ‘I’ve got these five students in my class’ and pull them out each week, find their interests, and then talk to their interests, and then pull down reading materials that would help them engage, I think we’re going to see a great improvement over the next couple of years that will not only get our students back on track academically, but also really set up Preble County for the future,” Niehaus told commissioners.
“Is this anything that can align with what you folks are able are allowed to do and try to do with the funding that’s coming down because of what we’ve had from the Cares Act, and the ARP (American Rescue Plan) and those kinds of things, and tie into what we can do for kids and the future of programming?” he asked commissioners.
Commissioners and Niehaus discussed how the students would be selected, and how the funding would be used, as the federal COVID-related funding is not a continuing program and only applicable for the next four years, possibly. Discussion during the meeting also included the need for workers trained in various trades that could be addressed with the workplace literacy program.
What Preble County is doing currently with the Career Connections Director position is already being recognized across the state, according to Hoff. “At our last superintendent meeting Dr. Welty from Miami Valley Career Technology Center, who was one of our initial investment opportunities in this position, who works with 27 different school districts across the region. And he talked about what we’re doing in Preble County, and how we are heads and shoulders above other areas, which historically speaking, we’re behind considerably. This is an opportunity.
“What we’re doing now is being recognized across the state,” Hoff continued. “The amount of calls that I get; people that I’ve talked to in Southeast Ohio, Northeast Ohio — we hear ‘A bout this career clinic, what are you doing?’ We’re at the state level. It is required that school districts have a success plan for students grades six through 12. It’s required by law. We decided, let’s go one better than that. We’re going to create a K-12 success plan.”
“In development, we’ve got a career activities plan, literally from kindergarten all the way through. And we’re focusing so heavy in high school now because it’s those kids that are going to be out into the workforce,” Hoff added.
“They want to stay here. We need to keep our kids here — they don’t need to leave,” he continued. “We need to provide them additional opportunities in the younger grades, to prepare and start to narrow their focus as they get in high school to prepare them for the career or college as part of a career, as they exit school. Seniors don’t think about the future. Their future is two hours from now. So, we have to start much earlier. And if we can pull this off and make this happen, we are now having those focused conversations at the younger grade levels to get them to start thinking.”
Superintendents and educators from Preble County’s school districts were on hand to voice their support for the proposed programming and discuss how they see it could benefit their students. Niehaus’ goal would be to receive enough funding to place the workforce literacy coaches and the programming in the schools over the next few years.
Commissioners did not take action on the proposal at the April 13 meeting.