By LaToya Young
Women’s Fund of Smith County
When I think of giving well, Whitney Houston’s song “Greatest Love of All” comes to mind. The song begins with the lyrics “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.” Growing up in North Tyler, giving for me was not monetary because money was not in abundance, but generosity was. Our giving came in the form of open doors, shared meals, passed down clothing, manpower, and time. I didn’t realize as a kid that we were what society considered poor or economically disadvantaged until I became an adult. I was a wealthy kid surrounded by love, laughter, family, faith, and great food. I have finally reached a point in my life where I can give; however, I still choose to show up rather than just writing a check.
The Tyler Area Business Education Council has allowed me to work with several stakeholders throughout Smith County; local business, faith-based, nonprofit, education and government partners work together by donating their time, wisdom, and resources. The Council strives to unify, nurture, empower, and transform our community. We work to accomplish this by joining together to increase postsecondary attainment, fostering a culture of education for all individuals, and investing in the success of our community which will result in altering the future of Smith County residents and the local economy.
Education is a critical building block for a successful community. In order for students to be successful, they must be supported both inside and outside of the classroom. Aside from our schools, we need to have active involvement in the education process from churches, individuals, non-profits, businesses, and parents.
As education levels rise, communities experience improved stability, health, and vitality. While Texas continues to lead the nation in high school graduation rates, there has been a growing concern that our state is not doing what is necessary to ensure that our young people are prepared for life after high school. Changing demographics and socioeconomics are major factors to consider. The student population of our region is becoming majority Hispanic and more and more of our students, regardless of ethnicity, are considered economically disadvantaged (defined by eligibility for free or reduced school meals).
Today, more than ever, the complex process of preparing for higher education is discouraging thousands of students from continuing education beyond high school. Issues related to standardized tests, financial aid, college applications, and scholarships, not to mention planning around work and other life responsibilities, are keeping some of the brightest and most promising minds out of colleges and universities. Not only do students need to be made aware of the courses they need to take and the nuts and bolts of applying for college, but they also need someone to turn to if they are struggling in school and need advice on how to move forward.
When students achieve their goals in education, everyone benefits. Business involvement helps to show relevance to students. The students are more motivated to get an education and more aware of how it correlates to success. There is evidence that links business involvement with fewer dropout rates. And when students see the relevance of pursuing a career in a specific industry, they are motivated not only to stay in school but to do their best. This helps create positive growth within the community over the long-term. Businesses should be invested in education because of their need for a strong pool of local workers to choose from and consumers who can afford their products. There is a wealth of opportunities available for businesses to partner with their local schools. School and Business partnerships create a win-win situation for schools, businesses and more importantly students.
All students should graduate from high school ready for college, careers, and life; prepared to pursue the future of their choice. The evolution of workforce preparedness has created the need for schools to design a rigorous curriculum that prepares students to enter the post-secondary option of their choice. This ingenuity has created a massive need for the expertise of businesses to educate students in a way that is real-world, relevant, and meaningful. Surprising to many, college and career education does not start at the high school level. In fact, it starts at the prekindergarten level. Businesses are needed to educate students about various careers available to them after graduation. Students tend to be highly receptive to career education from individuals working in their particular fields. This can be done through businesses’ participation in career days, career fairs, workplace tours, job shadowing, mentorships, informational interviews, and serving on school advisory boards. Ideally, businesses should provide hands-on workforce experience to local students. When students have the opportunity to work in the fields of their choice, they are better prepared for their post-secondary experience. Businesses can assist by providing internships and apprenticeships. The wealth of knowledge that is provided by industry partners to educators is an invaluable way to ensure that students are graduating from high school prepared for their next steps in life.
Education is a responsibility we all share. We must do our part to equip students with the critical knowledge and tools necessary to help them realize they’ve got what it takes! In the words of Whitney Houston, “Show them all the beauty they possess inside, give them a sense of pride, to make it easier.” Imagine if every business partnered with its local schools in some way! This would ideally address many of our educational needs, right? The answer is Yes! We must be diligent, steadfast, and engaged to improve the future for our young people, ourselves, and our community. No single person, program, or organization can guarantee an individual’s success; but, we can work together as a community to give all of our residents every possible opportunity for a better quality of life.
LaToya Young is Executive Director of Tyler Area Business Education Council. She serves on the Board Directors of the Women’s Fund of Smith County and chairs the Education Committee. Through collective giving, this organization of more than 300 women transforms our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. For more information, please visit www.womensfundsc.org