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FINANCIAL LITERACY: Harold Phillips, left, and JaDonna Rice of Ozark Bank teach their adopted class at Ozark South Elementary about the value of money. Phillips says the bank has participated in the program for 10 years.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
FINANCIAL LITERACY: Harold Phillips, left, and JaDonna Rice of Ozark Bank teach their adopted class at Ozark South Elementary about the value of money. Phillips says the bank has participated in the program for 10 years.

Working with the Future: School districts, businesses connect to equip students for workforce

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Students as young as pre-K are getting a close-up look at how businesses work in Nixa and Ozark. 

Through a partnership between the districts and the local chambers of commerce, businesses are participating in the Adopt-A-Class program to educate students of all ages about their future roles in the workforce.

Harold Phillips, senior vice president of Ozark Bank, has participated in the program at the Ozark and Nixa elementary schools for the last 10 years. This year, Ozark Bank adopted two classes in Ozark and one in Nixa. 

On a recent visit to Ozark South Elementary, Phillips’ adopted third-grade class lit up when he entered the room. It’s common for his questions to be met with a sea of eager hands in the air.

Phillips said his curriculum – an economic and business-oriented training program called Junior Achievement – focuses on the community and how businesses and the government operate. During his two or three visits each semester, Phillips also teaches the students about the exchange of money and how banks operate.

“Those concepts are really important,” he said. “Even underlying all of that, the message we send to these children is that they’re relevant, that they are valuable.”

Through the Adopt-A-Class programs, business owners are able to connect with a larger group of students and younger students than through selective internships or the Greater Ozarks Centers for Advancement Professional Studies program for high school juniors and seniors.

Other participants in the Nixa and Ozark Adopt-A-Class program include Air Services Heating and Cooling/All Service Professional Plumbing, Seven Hills Veterinary Clinic, law firms and restaurants.

School districts are offering the programs to prepare students for the workforce’s most current needs.

Missouri 2030, a workforce outlook prepared by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, shows the state is expecting 2.5% growth of its young professional population in the next 10 years. This is expected as baby boomers leave the labor force, which will amount to 1.6 million workers retiring over 20 years, according to the report.

That gap will be filled by some 1.4 million people if the up-and-coming workforce feels compelled to stay in Missouri post high school and college graduation, according to the report.

Partnering businesses
Craig Carson, assistant superintendent of learning at Ozark School District, said the Ozark Chamber of Commerce collects names of businesses interested in the program. 

“We try to find those that have a natural connection,” he said. “Once we match those interests, then the business owner and teacher determine how they can partner throughout the year.” 

Business professionals typically focus on the curriculum students already are learning, but they provide real-world application. 

“If a child can understand math, that’s great, but if they can understand how it works in the bank … that brings the curriculum to a whole new level,” Carson said.

Casey Owens, communications director for Ozark schools, said 30 businesses on average sign up each year. Bruce Galloway LLC, Blue Monkey Towing, Village Inn and Ozarks Technical Community College are a handful regularly involved in the program. 

JoLynne Reppond, Nixa Public Schools’ liaison for the Adopt-A-Class program, said the Nixa district has 50-60 partnerships a year. Almost 20 years after the program began, she said Nixa schools gets a wide range of participating organizations, including banks, pet groomers, churches, restaurants and area colleges. 

“We want to do what it takes to partner to make our kids successful, to show them what our business landscape looks like and to show them options they didn’t know were available in our city,” Reppond said. 

The Nixa Area Chamber of Commerce also is launching Adopt-A-Club this year for 7th-12th grades, said Executive Director Chris Russell. Businesses will be able to adopt such clubs as Future Business Leaders of America, Deca and foreign languages, Russell said. 

Historically, both Adopt-A-Class programs were geared toward elementary classrooms.

Anna Evans, executive director at the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had trouble getting teachers in the middle and high schools to see the opportunities of the program. That’s changed at the high school level. 

“We want to do absolutely everything we can to ensure that the students in the Ozark school system are able to have the opportunity to have a real conversation with people who might be in the field,” Evans said. “Not only is the school a fantastic community partner with us, … but they’re also playing a very integral role in shaping the future workforce.”

Workforce struggles
Rich Callahan, general manager of Air Services/All Services, has participated in the program for three years. Last year, Callahan adopted a trade class at Nixa High School. The group came to the company’s Springfield warehouse, where they were able to work on projects and learn what the heating and air company does, he said. 

Around $4,000 is allocated for the district’s school-to-career programs, Reppond said, and the money generally goes toward transportation so students can visit the businesses.

Callahan has been directly impacted by a lack of skilled workers in the trade industry. All Air/All Services currently has 35 service technicians but needs around six more to run the business smoothly and without paying overtime, Callahan said.

A skilled trade industry report released by Adecco in January shows 62% of trade firms in the United States are struggling to fill skilled positions. Over 251,000 heating and cooling positions are empty nationwide, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. 

“It’s the responsibility of all of our business owners,” Callahan said. “We can’t sit and complain about our workforce diminishing – we need to be active.” 

Sarah Bader, clinic administrator at Seven Hills Veterinary Clinic in Nixa, said the clinic has adopted third and sixth grade classes at Nixa this year. The clinic has participated in the program for the last six years, she said.

In addition to connecting with the classroom curriculum, Bader finds a way to tie in veterinary medicine.

She said the students are always excited to visit the clinic, too. During tours, students can check out X-rays, listen to a dog’s heartbeat and look at blood samples through a microscope. 

“It’s very common for kids having aspirations to become a veterinarian, or you have students who have pets in their homes,” she said. “The older the kids get, the more details they enjoy hearing. … Sometimes, you get as gross as you can get because they love it.” 

Bader said she also talks to students about the economics of owning a business and having them brainstorm the various costs associated with business operations. 

“It’s getting the students thinking in real-world terms and applying their school knowledge to that,” she said. 

For Phillips, it’s also about positively impacting students’ soft skills. He encourages the classes to always ask questions or offer answers, even if they might be wrong, and to always be honest.

“If you get them excited and committed and thinking at this age, then they can do whatever they want to,” he said.

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