celebrate education - brought to you by the amarillo globe-news

Education still celebrated

Program urging learning continues for second year

By Brenda Bernet

Education matters in the Panhandle.

That's the message of Celebrate Education, a community program launched last year by the Amarillo Globe-News and its sponsoring partners following a startling report by Panhandle Twenty/20 on the need for more residents to finish high school and continue their education. The Celebrate Education program focuses on improving educational attainment and awareness and returns for a second year, starting today.

The study showed that 25 percent of adults in the Panhandle lacked a high school diploma. About 20 percent of adults in Amarillo had not finished high school. Fewer than 20 percent of adults in the Panhandle had a bachelor's degree or higher.

"There are still many people who are not aware of the problem," said Les Simpson, publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News.

Simpson said the goal of Celebrate Education is to increase awareness of the issue and to take small steps in solving the problem.

"If you don't know about a problem, you don't know that you need to solve a problem," he said.

Through Celebrate Education, steps taken to combat low levels of education included meetings for company executives to discuss education issues in the community and workplace, matching two grants for teachers in conjunction with the Amarillo Education Foundation and providing for 1,000 fifth-graders to visit college campuses. The newspaper and school district also began a "Word of the Day" program to improve vocabulary for the general public and students.

In the coming year, Celebrate Education will grow to include two new special sections, Simpson said. One special publication will highlight jobs in the Panhandle and the education required. The other publication will feature Amarillo-area employers who are helping youth develop a career vision, such as through internships or mentoring programs.

A new media partnership with KFDA NewsChannel 10 and its sister stations, KZBZ and KTMO Telemundo will help convey the message to other parts of the community, Simpson said.

Panhandle Twenty/20's study brought attention to an important issue, said Buzz David, president and chief executive of the Amarillo Economic Development Corp.

"We had a large drop-out level and a low attainment level in a lot of circles," David said. "Now you've seen it in writing. I look at Celebrate Education as a first step."

Increasing the education levels of Panhandle residents will help to improve wages and fill a need for employers who have a difficult time finding workers with the necessary education, training and work ethic, David said.

Another effort is under way with PRO, a new Web site developed by the Amarillo Independent School District, Amarillo College and the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. The Web site for "Pursuing Real Opportunities" provides information on jobs in demand in the Panhandle, including those that do not require a traditional four-year degree. The targeted industries are architecture and construction, finance, manufacturing, and transportation, distribution and logistics.

"They need people from this area who want to have a good career here," David said. "A community like this that is physically more isolated needs to work hard at building a workforce."

Rod Schroder, superintendent for Amarillo Independent School District, spent much of his time on Panhandle Twenty/20's study on the "Economic Implications of Low Levels of Educational Attainment." Celebrate Education continues to keep the need for everyone to graduate from high school and receive post-secondary training in the forefront, Schroder said.

The school district's efforts include allowing school counselors to visit businesses and expanding a mentor program that gives students the opportunity to learn about occupations, Schroder said. The district's Career and Technical Education Program director is working to expand and change programs to meet the needs of local businesses.

In meeting with business executives, Schroder has learned more about the barriers to employment for new hires. Business leaders continued to emphasize the need for skills in computing and reading, as well as soft skills, such as in customer service, work ethic and arriving to work on time.

"Criminal records, drug records and bad credit prevent a lot of people from getting the job they want," Schroder said.

calendar of events
  • January 11
    Kickoff of 2009 Program
    Find out what Celebrate Education is all about in this special section in your Sunday paper.
  • March 7
    Regional Spelling Bee, West Texas A&M University
    The annual Regional Spelling Bee will feature the top spellers from the Amarillo area. The top five winners will receive scholarship money ranging from $500 to $5,000 and the winner will travel to Washington, D.C., in June to represent the area in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
  • Spring and Fall
    Amarillo Reads community-wide reading projects.
    Dates and details TBA
  • April
    Amarillo Education Matching Grants Program. Exact date TBA
  • April 10
    What's a Kid to Do Special Section
  • April 12
    What's a Kid to Do at the Amarillo Civic Center
    This event will focus on activities and camps for children to participate in during the summer..
  • May 8-29
    Beating the Odds
    A series of stories published daily in the Amarillo Globe-News during the graduation season that profiles people who have inspiring stories to tell about the degree they are about to receive.
  • May 12
    Ready for the Real World program at Amarillo Civic Center
    AISD juniors get training on what's going to face them in a little more than a year.
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Special Section
  • May 16
    Best and Brightest Event at West Texas A&M University
  • Fall
    Discover College Day
    Fifth graders from area schools visit college campuses.
  • October 1
    Great Jobs Special Section
    Focusing on well paying jobs available in the area that people may not know about.
  • November 2
    Career Education Special Section
    Focusing on businesses and others in the community helping young people gain a career vision.
  • November
    Yes You Can Event
    Designed to help people gain information about the next level of education from GED to PhD. Date TBA.
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