Southside teachers connecting with local businesses to help improve lesson plans

New program designed to create 'dialogue' between teachers, businesses

DANVILLE, Va. – Jenny Oldham and Stephanie O'Brien worked together on a shelf Monday morning at the IKEA plant in Danville, but this is not their day job.

Oldham teaches eighth grade at Gretna Middle School.

O'Brien teaches students at Pittsylvania County's alternative school.

"I think it's very key that teachers be able to get into the industry and into the local workplace and to have conversation with them as to what's going on in our classroom and what is going on in industry and how can we help each other," Oldham said.

"I see a lot of kids that, in my opinion, have basically almost given up on the opportunities that they might have out in the working world," O'Brien said. "I want to learn about what are the opportunities that I can take back to the classroom and say, 'Here's an opportunity, here's some work that can be done. Here's where your math is going to come in, here's where your English is going to come in, here's where your history's important."

Oldham and O'Brien are two of 25 teachers from Danville, Pittsylvania County and Caswell County, North Carolina, participating in the EXCITE program created by the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville.

EXCITE stands for Exploring Careers Through Industry Teacher Externships.

"We know sometimes teachers struggle with providing relevance; why do I need to learn this math, when am I going to ever use this. So it's an opportunity to create dialogue between teachers and our employers," program coordinator Julie Brown said.

The institute is also one of the 12 businesses teachers will be working at.

Two teachers were touring the facility Monday morning.

"The teachers spend two days at one business, two days at a second business, and then they come here to the institute for a half-day debrief; an opportunity to share with others, and develop ... lesson plans," Brown said.

Brown added that some teachers are already looking forward to participating again next year.

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