Businesses as School Partners

The Chicago Story as an Example

Many local businesses have gone global. School partnerships with businesses reap many rewards, now and well into the future. Image: DCvision2006/flickr.
Many local businesses have gone global. School partnerships with businesses reap many rewards, now and well into the future. Image: DCvision2006/flickr.

Many businesses invest in schools that help them meet workforce needs by preparing the next generation of workers and leaders. There is unmet—and growing--demand for job candidates who have the knowledge and skills to communicate, collaborate and compete across borders. In fact, according to the Committee for Economic Development, a non-profit organization of more than 200 business leaders and university presidents, “to compete successfully in the global marketplace, both U.S.-based multinational corporations as well as small businesses, increasingly need employees with knowledge of foreign languages and cultures to market products to customers around the globe and to work effectively with foreign employees and partners in other countries.”

But global learning ultimately isn’t about supplying multinational businesses with employees. “The reality is not all students will work for major companies. But we want them to have the option. We want them to have the options to do whatever they want,” says Robert Davis, director of Chicago Public Schools’ International Education program. The trick is to leverage the demand side to support the supply side.

Davis’ program is an inspiring example of school-business partnerships. Illinois ranks 49th in educational funding, but despite this, Chicago has built a pipeline to graduate multi-lingual, world-savvy students.

For example, Chicago Public Schools has nearly 40 schools that offer Chinese language instruction. The Chinese classrooms are populated with underserved students, many whom are below their target reading levels. Yet, parents embrace a rigorous globalized curriculum that includes foreign language study. They realize that being bi- or tri-lingual, with knowledge about world systems will make their children highly competitive, if not unstoppable, in the workplaces of the future. Says Davis, “We have many students who are recent immigrants from Mexico and they all speak Spanish at home and are learning Chinese and English at the same time. So essentially these kids will go through thirteen years of education where they are learning English, Spanish, and Chinese and will graduate pretty much as the most marketable students in the United States.”

Davis reached out to local businesses with a message that explained the premise and promise of the Chicago Public Schools international education programs. He identified several businesses that would be interested in supporting the district’s Chinese language and exchange program. Motorola, Skidmore, Owens and Merrill (SOM), and Boeing, all had business ties to China. These companies believe that investing in the local community and in the next generation will ultimately benefit the company. Motorola, for example, agreed to fund students to travel to China to participate in homestays and collaborative learning experiences with their Chinese peers.

These are big companies supporting a big city school system. But scale is relative. Throughout the country, small and medium-sized businesses give generous support to many local school systems. Make a case that makes sense for your community. Keep in mind that there are many ways businesses can become invested in your school community that goes deeper than financial investments.

Some ways to get started:

  • Get in touch with your local Rotary, World Trade Council or Chamber of Commerce to explore connections.
  • Structure ongoing mentoring opportunities for local businesses. Some businesses may sponsor competitions where students can present to executives in the boardroom or compete with other students locally.
  • Ask about student internships on-site in the local community or even at overseas locations.
  • Principal for a Day or Executive for a Day programs may elicit volunteers who will step into a school to share personal experiences and ideas as well as listen to a school’s needs and find ways to help.