By Ken McLemore
HOPE – Business and community leaders from across Hempstead County joined with the Hope Public Schools and the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp. at Hempstead Hall on Dec. 15 to kick-off a vision for student development opportunities within the Hempstead County workforce.
“Bobcats Work” is a junior and senior level high school employment skills development and experience partnership placing eligible Hope High School students directly into the local workforce. Participating businesses and industry in Hope provide paid or unpaid positions for students to acquire skills and gain work experience to become productive post-graduation employees of their partner business or industry.
The kickoff luncheon at Hempstead Hall on the University of Arkansas-Hope campus was attended by some 60 representatives of local business, industry and government. A second organizational meeting sponsored through the HCEDC will be held in January.
HPS Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Crossley and Hope High School Principal Donald Patton outlined the vision and hope for the program.
“I can see how this community will rally around our kids to help them meet their future,” Dr. Crossley said in his overview. ”But, we cannot do this without you.”
Presently some 22 HHS junior and senior students have expressed interest in participating in the program and half of them have submitted formal applications.
“This is a jumping-off point for this program and long term a potential five-year plan for our schools,” Crossley said. “We want not to simply be a great school system, we want to be a transformational school system.”
He said development of academically-related concepts such as the Hope Collegiate Academy and the Hope Career/Technical Center at UA-Hope are foundational starting points, along with the HHS Concurrent Credit Program.
“Bobcats Work is the second step,” Crossley said. “We have to have the strategic alignment; Bobcats Work is a central part to get us where we want to be.”
The concept is literally tied to establishing future business, industrial and governmental leadership in Hope and Hempstead County, he said.
“I want to individualize our education process and have business and community partners to wrap their arms around our kids so we can become a community school,” Crossley said.
He said the Bobcats Work framework is essentially ready to go and any inaugural problems can be tweaked.
“Bring me the problems, yes; but also bring me a solution,” Crossley said.
Patton said the success of the program will depend upon allowing students to see what is best in Hope and Hempstead County. He said the program is the sort of concept that made him want to become part of the Hope Public Schools.
“They’re making my dream come true,” Patton said. “I’ve been doing this for six years and I can go back and see what really made me want to come to Hope.”
Student acceptance of the idea is growing, he said.
“We put it before the students and telling them about the possibilities made them start asking questions,” Patton said. “And, I can tell you that not one student saw it as a way to get out of class; they looked at it as an opportunity to get a job.”
He said the time to act has arrived.
“The bottom line is what do we do for the students?” Patton asked. “It’s already here; the leaders we have today are our community leaders tomorrow. The students are already buying in and they don’t know all the details.”
Crossley expanded upon that point from both student and employer perspectives, noting that “buy-in” is a requirement where “ownership” is a choice from desire.
He said specifics of the participation by employers will vary, depending upon the need, legal liabilities, student academic scheduling and available openings.