Goal No. 1: Reversing bias against education

July 5, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Changing attitudes is not easy, especially when they are deeply ingrained. But members of the Strategic Action Committee's education and work force development subcommittee are determined to try.

The subcommittee recently developed a three-tiered plan designed to reverse the bias against education in Henry County and Martinsville. The group's first strategy involves helping people understand that education is valuable and an essential part of work force development.

To begin the process, the subcommittee plans to launch a "Focus on Our Work Force" awareness campaign this fall, said Hesta Anderson, work force services supervisor with the Virginia Employment Commission and subcommittee member.

"We recognize this is going to be a very long-term effort," Anderson said. "But we need to start to make some attempts."

The group envisions involving city and county governments in a week designed to focus on the area's work force and the skills people need to succeed in it. Companies could inform students and adults about the skills they look for in workers; business people could share their educational backgrounds; and students could research careers that interest them and the education required in those fields, Anderson said.

Churches and civic groups could get involved by promoting literacy and the value of education, she added. Anderson said the subcommittee members hope local businesses also will get in on the act.

"We'd like them to promote the value of education by recognizing workers who are working on a degree" or GED, she said.

The group also would like to hold an annual job fair in which local businesses promote their companies and take applications.

Anderson said these activities will be the beginning of a long-term effort.

"We really have a long way to go," she said. "But it's very important if we want to attract new business and industry."

In addition, the group plans to develop and implement learning communities. Students of similar ages would help each other through "critical transition periods," such as entering high school or college, said subcommittee Chairman Rhonda Hodges.

Group members would take similar courses, study together and work together outside the classroom, the plan states. It highlights existing programs at Magna Vista High School and Patrick Henry Community College as examples.

Grouping students also provides a way to address the specific needs of particular groups, as was called for in the initial Market Street report, the plan says. Positive peer pressure would promote the importance of vocational and college prep and a strong work ethic, it adds.

Another part of the first strategy involves building the quality of education and work force services for the area's Hispanic community. According to the report, that community is the fastest growing in Henry County.

The plan calls for enhancing area schools' Limited English Proficiency (LEP) programs, particularly for Spanish-speaking students. It also calls for coordinating the work of various groups that provide education and work preparation services for Hispanic people in the area.

The plan also suggests creating a Spanish guide to resources available in the community.


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