Many of us have heard the African Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am thankful to live in Neenah, which happens to be a wonderful “village” to raise my 3 teenage girls. But I also think that it takes a community to nurture our schools to serve our specific community needs.
I recently adopted a new role as a Community Champion for Neenah High School’s Incubator Program. Neenah High School is the first school in the State of Wisconsin to invest in this dynamic program that teaches entrepreneurship through hands-on learning. The program is designed to engage the community as the classroom teacher on an array of topics designed to support student groups in development of a new product or solution. Envision something like the television show “Shark Tank”. In fact, one Incubator students from IL, Martin Dimitrov, recently struck a deal with 3 sharks on the television show from an idea he developed during his high school Incubator class.
While many ideas coming out of this high school classroom may not strike deals, the positive ripple effect of this program is already worth its investment. Students are learning how to fail fast and pivot. That kind of resilience and creative problem-solving represent some of the most essential and applicable skills for life after high school. My role as a Community Champion is to connect coaches and mentors from companies in the Fox Cities to share their expertise. These experts do not come to give presentations; they come as advisors on a specific topic and guide small groups through their related development challenges.
This relationship building is what I celebrate most about this program because of its positive ripple effect. Relationship building between experts and students, companies and school, youth and community is already planting seeds for a better future. Students are learning how to cold call an engineer at a company for advice or how to do market research within our community through interviews. It undoubtedly helps to live in a friendly community for this learning process! Students are gaining an understanding of companies they frequently drive by or have heard of through building relationships with real people who work there. Education transformation is happening through building authentic community connections and making strong connections to local resources.
When I talk to area companies through my work at Future Neenah, one of the biggest challenges rising to the top of their lists right now is talent acquisition. What if that talent could be home grown through programs like this at our schools? What if your company’s next money-making product idea is being discussed at a high school desk right now? At the very least, students in the Incubator Program are going to end the school year knowing far more about the career opportunities that may exist at local companies and with an awareness of the
endless possibilities for innovation. They will gain a network of relationships that will serve them well should they need to rely on them. Working in groups is already helping them acknowledge that we each have our unique contributions to help move society forward.
Regardless if you have school age children or not, engaging the community in what happens within our schools should be important to all of us. We are all stakeholders in our future generation that will lead our businesses and communities someday. If we grow stronger roots here by feeding innovation starting with the youth right here in our community, I believe we will all reap the benefits in some way.
-By: Amy Barker; Future Neenah’s Executive Director. Amy can be reached at [email protected]