Web unites work, study

Businesses, schools to unveil Internet site aimed at partnerships

Career-building is goal

Database can be used to find guest speakers, mentors, internships

November 18, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

In an effort to foster greater collaboration among county schools and businesses, a local foundation has created an Internet-based clearinghouse intended to make it easier to form partnerships.

The centerpiece of the initiative, called Building Bridges, is a Web site intended to meet the needs of educators, students and employers. It could be used for such diverse purposes as finding guest speakers, creating student internships or starting a mentoring program.

Sponsored by the 21st Century Education Foundation, a group of area business leaders, the Building Bridges Web site is scheduled to be unveiled today by school officials and local business people. The address will be www.buildbridges.net.

"We're realizing that if we want to reach every student, we've got to do it in a variety of instructional approaches," said Sherry Yaniga, the county school system's coordinator of business partnerships. "Direct contact with business people can help our students focus in on career opportunities and help them to take a look at the kinds of qualities they need to be good employees."

Employers say that creating stronger ties with schools will benefit them when students graduate better-prepared for the work world -- especially in the technology field where many vacancies exist.

"We need to develop local talent rather than going out of state," said Jeff McKnight, executive vice president of operations and client services at Usinternetworking, an Annapolis software company that served as an adviser for the Building Bridges project.

"To grow our business the way it's growing now, we'll be looking to schools over a period of time to develop appropriate curricula and programs," McKnight said.

Larry Ulvila, a 21st Century Education Foundation board member, says the Building Bridges Web site is the first of its kind in Maryland.

"We realize our employees will come from the public schools," he said. "Anything we can do to enhance education will behoove us."

The key component of the Web site is a database listing county businesses willing to enter into partnerships with county schools. Each listing contains a description of the business, a contact person and possible partnership activities.

"Any educator can pull up a menu and request a partner in a variety of different ways," Yaniga said. "They might be looking for a career speaker, an internship, someone to do a mock interview. Whatever the activity is, they can click on that. They can look for subject matter speakers, too, by clicking on science, social studies or math."

Once the teacher selects an appropriate business partner, he or she can send an e-mail request to the contact person at that business. The contact will let the teacher know, by e-mail, whether the business can participate. Once an activity is scheduled, both parties will receive e-mail reminders a week before the event and evaluation forms afterward.

"I'm sure right now businesses are inundated with phone calls from teachers across the county who are looking for partners," Yaniga said. "By handling it through e-mail, this will allow a business person to check the requests at their convenience."

The Web site also includes tips on how to develop a partnership, and a job bank where employers can list employment opportunities.

Yaniga said business leaders and school staff members spent the past 18 months developing the Building Bridges project, which was funded with a $55,000 state grant. The money covered the cost of setting up the Web site and paying a coordinator to manage the program for a year.

Dorothy R. Brown, a teacher at Glen Burnie High School and coordinator there in the state's Career Connections program, says she's looking forward to using the new Web site.

"I think it's a wonderful way for us to tell businesses what it is we need," said Brown, who plans to use the Building Bridges database to place students in internships, arrange job-shadowing opportunities and find speakers for the school's annual career fairs.

"I think that employers are not getting the kind of employees they really need; they're lacking a work ethic and have bad attendance," Brown said. "They [employers] have said, `We really have to get involved in education.' It's a piece that's been missing."

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