By Leah Turner
I think that at this juncture in my career, I am kind of like our high school kids. The closer retirement becomes, the more I find myself wondering, “Where do I go from here?”
That’s the same question we ask our high school students: Where are you going and how do you plan to get there? But just as importantly, what are each of us asking of ourselves as community members? Where are WE going from here?
In my community, teachers have begun to answer that question. We are mapping out where we are going and we are taking progressive steps in that direction.
As teachers, we participate in community events such as the March of Dimes, Relay for Life, Kayley’s Klub and the Fellowship of Christian Anybodies. We also are stepping out and becoming members of the South Central Arts Council, Little Mountains Guild of Artists and Craftsmen and Work Ready Community committees to help solidify our commitment to Wayne County and its future. In our schools, teachers are actively teaching our students how to be productive members of our community and fostering a sense of communal responsibility, as well as maintaining our commitment to college and career-ready goals.
The future dreams of our community are calling upon all of us to step up and lead, whether from the classroom, the neighborhood or various communities within Wayne County. One way teachers are taking the lead is through the Work Ready Community Initiative. By participating in this initiative, we are forging solid connections between our high school graduates and local employers.
When I graduated from Wayne County High School 30 years ago, there were two paths: go to college or go to work. The majority of my class went to work. I went to college, but without real direction. My parents said simply, “This is what you are going to do,” and that’s what I did.
I spent my time and their money trying to figure out who and what I was going to be. But in my 1986 world, I wasn’t sure what was available for me to do. I piddled around in healthcare administration, but that involved too much business stuff. I explored speech therapy, but again, I wasn’t sure that was the career for me. At the end of this wandering and expensive path, I ended up in middle grades education.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016. I have a son who is a 7th-grader and a daughter who is a senior. Their worlds, comparatively, are wide open. Both of my children are well aware of career options that I knew nothing about at their ages. As a mom and as a community member, I wonder whether my children will choose the college path or the career path, and I wonder where they will make their homes and choose to work.
In the past, Wayne County wasn’t a viable choice for them because our jobs were exiting the county and the hope of new jobs coming in were null and void (Hope Floats). But, that dim future has begun to change. Wayne County, as a whole, has come to realize that in order to keep our young folks here, we have to provide something for them to sustain a productive lifestyle.
To address this need, Wayne County recently has become a Work Ready Community in progress. Now I know this isn’t anything new to other communities, but it is to us. This status will bring to our students a hope they might not have had otherwise. This initiative by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet not only will improve students’ desire to obtain a degree, but it also will drive home the need for students who don’t want to go to college to attain a technical degree.
Just what is the Work Ready initiative? Work Ready Communities strive to provide employers with the type of people they are willing to hire. Wayne Countians need to be educated either in a trade or they need to possess a college degree. They need to be willing to go to work every day and willing to do what is needed to get a job done. But, the community also needs to be ready, meaning the city and county governments need to act decisively to create conditions in which business and industry can flourish.
Wayne County Judge Executive Mike Anderson has stated that about 50 educators, manufacturing leaders, small business men and women came together in January 2015 to identify activities that the group felt were the top four areas that residents needed to address to meet the goal of becoming a Work Ready Community. They were:
- Natural gas
- High speed internet
- Community commitment
What does economic development have to do with education? Everything. As educators, we are responsible for transforming the students who enter our doors as preschoolers and leave as graduated seniors with the will and ability to help our community thrive. My colleagues in Wayne County play a vital role in fostering the latter two of those top four goals.
The leadership of our county realizes the importance of education in the development of a thriving community. They realize that teachers play vital and inescapable roles in our future. However, we must also come to the realization that our community involvement cannot and should not end with our work in the classroom. We must be active in other ways and we must exemplify the traits we try so hard to instill in our students. We must be agents for change and agents for hope, not only for our students but in the eyes of our community, as well.
Hope is something that each community needs and it is up to us, as teachers and community leaders, to charge forward to create that hope.
Leah Turner is a 24-year teaching veteran in the Wayne County school system. When she is not involved in supporting her children with their academic and athletic endeavors, she is actively involved with Hope Street Group and various other projects.