MIX connects local industries with local teachers

Bassett Furniture Senior Vice President Jeb Bassett welcomes MIX tour participants to the new Bassett Design Center.

November 25, 2015

Area schools are teaching 21st century skills that are needed in local industries. 

That is one of several things Martinsville Middle School guidance counselor Stephanie Adkins said she learned from the MIX — Modern Industry Exchange — program, sponsored by the Harvest Foundation and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.

MIX helps educators learn about the job opportunities available for young people in the area and the skills they will need to land those jobs. Now in its second year, about 20 educators from Henry County, Martinsville and Carlisle School toured four local industries to learn about the companies’ operations, work forces and job requirements.

On Nov. 17, the group toured the Bassett Furniture Design Center and the Hooker Furniture headquarters, including its Innovation Lab. In October, participants toured Eastman Chemical in the Patriot Centre industrial park and Alcoa Titanium & Engineered Products (formerly RTI International Metals).

After the tour, Adkins said she learned, “We are doing what industry needs. We are all on the right track. We are all on the same page.” Which includes teaching 21st century skills such as collaboration, creativity and global networking, and project-based learning, in which students present their findings using real-world skills such as writing, Adkins said.

Donna Kaczor, a horticulture teacher at Laurel Park Middle School, said the industry tours were “eye-opening.”

“I’ve lived here all my life and had no idea” of some of the companies and job opportunities available, she said.

Adkins echoed that sentiment. She said she learned that there are job opportunities locally in graphic design, marketing, human resources and other areas.

“I’m so glad jobs are coming back,” she said, adding that when students say they will never use something being taught in school, she now can tell them she has seen those skills in practice.

Margie Agee, an information technology teacher at Martinsville Middle School, also said she did not realize all the industries that are located in Henry County and Martinsville, mentioning specifically Eastman and Alcoa.

The lesson she took from the MIX program is, “There are jobs in our area so they (students) don’t have to leave (for college) and not come back,” Agee said.

It would be helpful for students to tour some of the industries, she said, adding that should begin in middle school. “High school is too late for some kids,” she added.

DeWitt House, program officer with the Harvest Foundation, said some educators in last year’s MIX program used the contacts they developed from the industry tours to arrange visits for their students, which opens doors for teachers, he added.

Lisa Seiy, a computer science and math teacher at Carlisle, said students there are so college-oriented that it was good to learn what skills are needed for particular jobs. She was referring specifically to Hooker Furniture, where executives listed qualifications — education, work experience and hard and soft skills — in several areas of the company’s operations.

“As a parent, it also was helpful to hear,” Seiy added.

John Truini, a JROTC instructor at Magna Vista High School, said it was good to learn about the opportunities here. He said he tells his students that they need to finish their high school educations and possibly get advanced training, though not necessarily college.

But “you don’t have to leave home to do it,” he said.

Some students need to be “enlightened” about local opportunities, Truini said. “There’s more here than meets the eye if you’re willing to dig a little deeper.”

Eddie Sechrist, a math teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, said a small percentage of students “can’t see the future” and how they can succeed in it. “How do we help them envision what they need … to get a high school education and not be a senior taking algebra for the fourth time?” he said. “How can we bring reality to them?”

Admitting he had no answers to those questions, Sechrist said some students need to look behind the scenes at a fast-food restaurant and see if that is what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

He and several other educators also bemoaned the loss of vocational education in recent years. Those classes trained students for jobs in fields such as auto mechanics, in which basic skills such as math are needed, and they motivated students who were not interested in academic courses, they said.

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki thanked the teachers for taking time away from their classrooms for the tours, and he urged them to take a message back to their students.

“Let kids know what’s available, especially locally,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities in this area.”

Tuesday’s tours at Bassett and Hooker showed how two companies in the same industry took different paths to success, House said.

Hooker is a home furnishings marketing and logistics company that serves retailers, ecommerce, warehouse clubs, catalogs and other customers. Bassett is a furniture manufacturer that also has a network of retail stores that sell only Bassett furniture.

Read more about Bassett Furniture Industries and Hooker Furniture! 


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