Local business and education go hand-in-hand, especially on the West Side, local school district officials said.
The local business and industry community support student engagement through STEM initiatives, business education, after-school programs and teacher externships.
“Outside of the schools themselves, perhaps the best sector positioned to positively impact our young people is our local business and industrial community,” said Mary Arrasmith, career and technical education coordinator for West Baton Rouge Parish Schools.
Businesses make up the top 10 taxpayers in the parish according to the Assessor’s Office. About 65 percent of local taxes come from businesses, approximately half of which goes to local schools, WBR Schools business manager Jared Gibbs said.
Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and Placid support local schools as the top three taxpayers in the parish and through initiatives that connect business and industry to the classroom. These larger entities engage with schools in a less traditional approach, Arrasmith said.
Instead of the traditional charitable giving or philanthropic approach, local industry engages with students and educators through mentorship and opportunities to enhance hands-on learning.
“On an even larger sphere than STEM literacy, each of our students must have career readiness skills that cross-cut sectors and make them valuable to employers,” Arrasmith said.
Every West Side high school student takes at least one Career Readiness course and many are enrolled in business education courses. Projects for these courses are often vetted by members of the WBR Chamber of Commerce and its Workforce-Education Committee.
Teachers like Jill Edwards of Port Allen High School make the most of technology by bringing local virtual mentors and guest speakers from local businesses to the classroom on a daily basis, Arrasmith said.
“It is a win-win situation,” Arrasmith said. “The young people who benefit from these types of partnerships often look to the industries they recognize when they make their way into the workforce.”
Local industry and businesses have played a role in increasing student participation in Advanced Placement courses and industry based certifications. The number of students earning industry based certifications during high school increased from 306 to 507 over the past two years, Superintendent Wes Watts said.
“This helps them in the job market and it helps you guys,” Watts said in his State of Education Address at the Nov. 15 Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Twenty percent of the 375 AP exams taken by students last year, scored a three or higher, earning college credit for the course, Watts said.
Watts noted the number of students taking and passing Advanced Placement classes increased after the implementation of the National Math and Science Initiative, whose founding sponsor is ExxonMobil.
The National Math & Science Institute provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce, according to ExxonMobil. The program provides weekend review sessions for students and teacher training and support.
The community support found here is special to West Baton Rouge, said Brusly High teacher Kim Eckert, who was awarded the title of the 2018 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year.
“All of the ingredients are here to have a great school district,” Eckert said.
Community, industry and business involvement provides opportunities for educators to further their professional learning at places like the Smithsonian Institution, Tapia Camps at Rice University, and the Jump Start Super Summer Institute.
“To hire STEM and Business-literate graduates, the companies who support our schools feel strongly that they play a key role in helping develop those graduates and their skills,” Arrasmith said.