It may take years, Mount Hebron Principal Ed Markley said, before he sees the full benefits of his high school's partnership with a local engineering firm, but he is convinced that it is an important first tie between business and the future work force.
"I think it's a real education for us to learn what businesses are looking for and what kind of skills they want their employees to have," Markley said.
Some 65 businesses and organizations have formed partnerships with schools in Howard County in a program that has mushroomed since it was developed four years ago. The firms send representatives to schools to help students learn more about them and set up sessions in the area of their expertise. In addition, 30 businesses are at-large partners that contribute facilities, such as space for conferences.
Partnership programs have been implemented in many school systems as one of the newest concepts in aiding the educational process. Howard officials say they have had remarkable success in launching their effort.
"I thought it would be difficult to solicit and recruit businesses for this, but the response I've gotten has been so terrific I can barely keep up with it," said Paula Blake Scharff, the county school system's coordinator of school-business relations.
Scharff said the program that started modestly in 1987 now boasts 100 partnerships. She said it has been as beneficial to businesses as to students.
"It's a feel-good program for their employees," said Scharff, co-chairwoman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's partnership committee. She said the program's growth has far exceeded her expectations.
In the past year alone, 18 businesses and organizations have formed partnerships with schools and seven others have become at-large partners.
The participants are a diverse group -- from large corporations such as C&P Telephone to family operations such as Countryside Veterinarian in Ellicott City.
Dr. Mary Beth Soverns, who operates Countryside Veterinarian with her husband, said she holds monthly sessions at Waterloo Elementary School to teach children how to become good pet owners. She is among the new partners and said she planned to remain involved in the program.
Cescili Drake, 17, a senior at Mount Hebron, said she found the computers and discussions helpful for writing advanced English compositions. She plans to take the computer files to college for use as references.