CHARLESTON — Members of Coles County's economic development organization heard on Tuesday how local schools are taking a new approach to help students find what fits with their futures.
Charleston and Mattoon school officials told those at the annual meeting of Coles Together that the goals are to educate students in the information age and to help businesses have the prepared employees they need.
"You can look up the states and capitals on your phone," said Kristen Holly, the Charleston School District's assistant superintendent for student services. "We're still going to teach geography, but the key will be to focus on helping our students problem solve."
The approach known as "competency-based" education centers on helping students master a subject and not having them move on after a certain amount of time, the educators explained.
They said it should also help what schools are hearing from some employers, that they need better-prepared workers.
When students master a subject, they can "put it to use" through partnerships with businesses to give them more exposure to what the working world's about, said Christy Hild, student services director with the Mattoon School District.
"Why don't we let them explore a career?" she said. "We're expanding learning beyond the classroom."
Holly and Hild both said the school districts' respective efforts are in the early stages but will also address leadership and personal skills. It will all be part of what students will need after their school years, they said.
Hild added that teachers say some students need a way to learn personal skills that will help make sure they can solve problems and be aware of such things as knowing they have to be at work on time.
"Why leave it to chance?" she said. "Why not level that playing field?"
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The two administrators also said their districts welcome business and community mentorship and other participation as the new programs develop.
When Coles Together President Angela Griffin addressed the meeting, she said the schools' plans fit with some of the organization's efforts to "draw attention to opportunities available."
She mentioned the annual "Manufacturing Day" event Coles Together sponsors which provides tours of businesses for county high school students.
Griffin also noted some of the organization's development efforts, which she said included seven industrial development projects "we can call wins."
The effort also led to a potential use of the long-closed Trailmobile plant just north of Charleston as a large recycling facility, she said.
A New Jersey company is working on an estimate on renovating the building after Coles Together provided it with information at a trade show, Griffin said.
"We took the facility directly to the industry," she said.
Griffin also said the organization recently completed an application to renew the county's enterprise zone, a nearly 30-year-old incentive program for industrial development.
If it receives state approval, retail and commercial projects would be eligible for the program's incentives for the first time, she said.