Work + education = success

August 29, 2013

From “MPS takes a look at intensive technical training proposal” — What has proven to be one effective way to get Wisconsin high school students at risk of dropping out to earn their diploma and reinvest themselves in their future?

Pay them to do it.

That’s what the rapidly expanding GPS Education Partners, formerly the Second Chance Partners for Education, has been doing for more than 10 years in the state.

But these students aren’t just taking handouts. They’re earning their pay by working nearly full time in various businesses — primarily within manufacturing and similar technical fields — while also taking classes toward their diploma year-round on-site.

This fall, the group, which boasts a 90% high school graduation rate and 203 graduates to date, is seeking to expand into Milwaukee Public Schools and serve eight to 10 students across the city in its first year.

The group’s contract goes before the School Board for approval Thursday night, and the administration backs the approval of the program, according to MPS spokesman Tony Tagliavia.

The city would be the 16th site in Wisconsin for GPS Education Partners. If the contract is approved, the group would have 215 students enrolled in the 21-month program, which relies on partnerships with businesses and school districts to function.

In Milwaukee, students would likely be selected from interested applicants at Bradley Tech High School, James Madison High School and the School of Career and Technical Education, formerly known as Custer High School, according to Tagliavia.

Those students would spend time working at Strattec Security Corp., Monarch LLC, Brady Corp. and others, according to an announcement from the education nonprofit earlier this summer.

The selected students typically are chosen because they have struggled or have become disengaged in a traditional high school setting and are interested in pursuing a technical career after high school. During the program, the students rotate between two to three different businesses and learn six to 10 different manufacturing jobs over the 21 months. Students typically begin the program in their junior year.

For six hours a day, students work alongside an adult mentor in manufacturing plants or warehouses and learn different skills, from welding to skills with technology and heavy machinery. For two hours a day, the students converge in a classroom on-site at one of the businesses and are taught traditional academic material by a state certified teacher.

In addition to a diploma from their original high school and graduating with their class, the students earn a two-year Youth Apprenticeship Certificate from the state Department of Workforce Development and earn advanced standing in the Wisconsin Technical College System. They also become a certified production technician though the Manufacturing Skills Standard Council.

Both Tagliavia and MPS’ Career and Technical Education coordinator Eric Radomski said the program fits into MPS’ mission because it provides another pathway that could contribute to success for the students involved.

“Our goal is that students graduate with the skill set necessary to succeed in whichever path they’re interested,” Tagliavia says.

Tagliavia says the program’s successful track record makes him optimistic that the program will succeed in the city. The organization has worked in surrounding suburbs as well as cities such as Green Bay and Appleton, but MPS will be the first time GPS has operated in a completely urban setting.

GPS President Stephanie Borowski says she is confident the model will translate effectively into the city, saying there is a high level of flexibility within the classrooms because of the low student-to-teacher ratio, which consistently hovers around 8-to-1.

While MPS has many other programs that are geared toward introducing students to technical fields and preparing those interested in the field for that pursuit, GPS Education Partners would be the most intense technical program within the district.

While other programs offer students the opportunity to work in such a setting, none goes as far as educating the students on-site in a classroom at one of the businesses.

Garrett Crish graduated, by virtue of the program, from Menomonee Falls High School in 2009.

To this day, Crish, who now works in a New Berlin warehouse, credits the organization with turning his life around.

“I can honestly say that the Second Chance Program changed my life. I was on the fast track to nowhere, and at the time I couldn’t have cared less,” Crish says. “Working in real warehouses with real hardworking people was the strong kick in the butt I needed as a 17-year-old.”

Crish, 23, said that while the program did not directly land him a job upon graduation, it gave him the tools and work ethic he needed to impress during a seasonal job at a warehouse that eventually landed him a full-time job at the New Berlin distribution center.

David Mitchell, president and CEO of Monarch LLC, which has worked with the group since 2010 and typically brings in two students each year through the program, will add one MPS student this year if the contract is approved Thursday, he said.

The company, which specializes in the fabrication of heavy equipment, allows the students to develop welding skills.

Mitchell says one student excelled during his time with the company and was in turn hired on upon his graduation as a welder.

Borowski says 60% of past students have gone on to immediately seek work after the program, 35% have continued on with their education beyond high school and 5% join the military.

For the business, the cost is “relatively low,” Mitchell says, though Monarch does not break even on the program. He says he looks at it as giving back to the community as well as preparing the next generation of the workforce.

GPS Educational Partners maintains its financing through donations as well as shared per-pupil allotments from the state with participating districts and contributions from participating businesses.


■ Students rotate among two to three businesses and learn six to 10 manufacturing jobs over 21 months.

■ For six hours a day, students work alongside an adult mentor in manufacturing plants or warehouses.

■ For two hours a day, students converge in a classroom on-site at one of the businesses and are taught traditional academic material by a state certified teacher.



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