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There has been much progress made this school year in addressing the training of students to enter the work force. Those first steps will be taking a leap when classes throughout Hardin County start next fall.

“When I was in the eighth grade I had two days of job shadowing and that was it,” said Hardin County Chamber and Business Alliance President Jon Cross as he opened the organization’s second Education and Business Summit Thursday morning at Kenton High School. “Things have changed and changed for the better.”

Educators and business leaders gathered in the cafeteria at the school to hear progress reports on what was accomplished this year and to share strategies for the future. The emphasis on the summit was on Kenton’s Wildcat Kommunity Konnectors program.

Students were recognized for completing the mentoring program’s initial year and area businesses owners who gave them the opportunity to get a taste of various careers.

“We feel we have started something great here,” said KHS Principal Chad Thrush. “We started with a few more kids than we have now.”

There were 30 students who signed up to take part in the Konnectors program, said Thursh, and 18 completed the training and presented their projects in the gymnasium following the summit session.

The school considers the first year of the Konnectors program a success, said Thrush, but will be making adjustments for 2016-17. One of the major changes will be the hiring of a full-time staff member administering the mentoring program daily. Jane Ensign established the new program this year through funding from a $128,000 Ohio Department of Education (ODE) grant. If that grant is renewed, said Ensign, she will return in the fall.

But regardless of the state funding, she said, the school is dedicated to the Konnectors program and will pay Christina Cross as the advisor.

“The district has put its stamp on this to make it work,” said Thrush.

“This grant,” said Jon Cross, “has changed the lives of our students and changed our community. Every dollar means a great deal to the community.”

Each school district is taking steps to establish programs to offer students more options in selecting careers and in giving them a boost academically to make that possible, he said. The Alliance is looking at being the “connector” for the programs, he continued.

“There are things we are going to do in a countywide basis,” Cross said.

Most districts are looking into mentoring programs, he noted, but are running their individual programs in different ways. Once those programs are ready to match the students with mentoring businesses, the Alliance will assist in the matching, said Cross.

He also announced the formation of two new countywide programs. The first will be the development of a job and career fair for all schools in the county. At the fair, business leaders and professionals will discuss the pros and cons of their careers.

Prior to the fair, which would be scheduled about Christmas time, said Cross, the students can receive instruction in resumé writing, interview skills, etc.

Then in the spring, industry tours can be made available to key locations, such as manufacturing, health care, education and agricultural businesses within the county, Cross said.

The tours would be geared toward sophomores and juniors, he explained.

“Once the student is in the 12th grade, we want them to have an idea where they want to go,” said Cross. “If people are going to build buildings and bring jobs to Hardin County, we need a good work force. Without a workforce, there is no economic development.”

Upper Scioto Valley Superintendent Dennis Recker updated the group on the programs being established in his district to train students for jobs and earn them credentials and college credits.

Ridgemont Superintendent Emmy Beeson said her district is not only requiring students in grades 7-12 to spend two days job shadowing, but is also requiring the teachers from those classes to job shadow a business or programs which have been successful in other schools. Ridgemont also is looking into inviting business leaders to spend a day in the classrooms as “guest teachers” to better make the connection between business and education.

The combined effort to connect businesses and schools should be a model for other communities, said Michele Timmons, of Ed Envision Plus, which helped the county in submitting the ODE grant for the Konnectors program.

“What you people are doing is phenomenal,” she said.