Homegrown ideas: Business pros brainstorm ways to help Grand County’s students

Inside the events center at River Run RV Resort on Wednesday, business leaders, elected officials and school personnel came up with scores of ideas to better connect Grand County’s students to the local economy.

The county is one of eight communities across Colorado selected to participate in the Homegrown Talent Initiative, a new statewide partnership that aims to create homegrown, career-connected learning experiences for students aligned with businesses’ needs.

The initiative is being facilitated by Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Education Initiative with support from the Daniels Fund, Walton Family Foundation and Gill Foundation.

“Through our advocacy work… we’ve identified some of the most innovative and impactful partnerships between K-12, higher education, and employers,” said Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, in a statement. “Time and again, we have witnessed the value that can be generated for kids and communities when these diverse partners come together in substantive ways to design relevant, career-connected learning experiences for every student.”

Furthermore, children are more engaged in school, more successful building skills and more thoughtful about their academic and career pathways under such programs, he added.

The East and West Grand school districts are working together on the local initiative with help from a number of members of the community. On Wednesday, Superintendents Frank Reeves from East Grand and Darrin Peppard from West Grand helped describe how it all might work, as the Homegrown Talent Initiative could include anything from job-shadowing opportunities and classroom speakers to internships, apprenticeships, professional certifications and much more.

“It’s really about all of us working collectively,” Peppard explained.

During Wednesday’s presentation at River Run, the audience included elected officials, such as Granby Mayor Paul Chavoustie and Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke, along with numerous business pros, representatives of Coloarado Succeeds and CEI, and school staff.

After the two schools’ superintendents had explained the perimeters of the new initiative taking shape in Grand County, the local pros were asked to divide themselves into groups and come up with ideas about how businesses can work with students to help them find their passions, engage with their communities and develop the skills necessary for today’s workforce, skills that aren’t being taught inside traditional school classrooms.

One example of what’s happening with the Homegrown Talent Initiative came when dozens of MPHS students took a recent field trip to Devil’s Thumb Ranch for the school’s “Career Cab.”

During the trip to the resort, Devil’s Thumb Ranch hosted students interested in various fields, such as business management or culinary arts, and paired them with different departments at the Ranch for an in-depth, real world experience the students never could have got otherwise.

Part of this means building a “graduate profile,” Reeves said. The profile is not a picture of an individual student, but rather an overarching look at the graduates the school is producing and what character traits the school can guarantee they have when they leave one of Grand County’s high schools.

“What characteristics do (graduates) have that they could be hired at Devil’s Thumb and you have no questions that they are going to work out for you,” Reeves said. “That’s what I think this is more about. It’s not just about getting kids in work study programs. It’s about making kids successful.”

The communities selected to participate were picked through an application process by CEI and Colorado Succeeds to design and implement ways to tap into the local talent while students are still in middle and high school.

Each community design team will work with Colorado Succeeds and the Colorado Education Initiative through Fall 2020, receiving technical assistance, travel and convening stipends, connections with other communities across the state working on similar initiatives, and be eligible for potential future partnerships for deeper implementation support.

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