Open Doors, Options and Opportunities Await Students in the Nashville Area
Education and business partnerships pave the way for area students.
The Nashville region is churning out well-educated talent left and right, leading to a pool of quality employees for area businesses. And the region’s schools are playing a vital role in starting students off on the right path.
Ranked by U.S. News & World Report, eight of the top 10 high schools in Tennessee are in the Nashville region, including Rutherford County’s Central Magnet, which ranked No. 13 in the nation.
Multiple Exit Points
Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) offers the Academies of Nashville (AON) program, which started in 2006 and is now offered in 12 MNPS high schools.
Unlike the one-size-fits-all schooling that your parents or grandparents received, AON is considered one of the best college and career prep programs in the nation, allowing students to gain hands-on experience in fields that interest them. Students can choose from 35 different academies, ranging from health care to engineering to culinary arts, and earn industry certifications and college credit.
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AON Director Donna Gilley says since its inception, the program has positively impacted students in multiple ways.
“I think the Academy has been the equalizer because when all kids are together, they begin to appreciate each other, and they just have opportunities,” Gilley says. “What I always say to kids is my goal is to introduce you to the highway of life, and I don’t really care which pathway you get into – I want there to be multiple exit points.”
Whether the exit point students take after high school is entering the workforce, enrolling at a local community college or working toward a four-year degree, they will have gained relevant industry experience and networked with AON business partners.
“It’s amazing how much networking has gone on between our business partners and students,” Gilley adds. “Our students know our business partners as well as they know their teachers in many cases because they’re in the schools, they are helping make decisions.”
Business Partners Rise to the Challenge
Other collaborations between business and education are taking place all over the region.
In Rutherford County, for example, partnerships between area schools, postsecondary institutions and companies are supporting IT programs that serve students at Blackman, Central Magnet, La Vergne, Riverdale, Rockvale, Siegel and Stewarts Creek high schools.
New in 2021, Central Magnet plans to offer a data science program in partnership with Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Murfreesboro. STEMbased learning itself begins earlier than high school here.
Bobbie Jo Meredith, a middle school STEM instructor at Rocky Fork Middle School in Rutherford County, leads students through a crime scene forensic investigation that draws on their skills in writing, math and multiple sciences.
“We’re focused on problem-based learning,” Meredith says. “We introduce students to real-world problems and help them use the skills they are learning throughout their classes to attack and solve those problems.”
Another program available for students at all Maury County high schools is Workforce Academy, which pairs local company representatives with juniors and seniors to teach them how to find and keep a job.
While different areas of the Nashville region are taking separate approaches to get students on paths to success, they all turned to technology during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure students were able to continue their education.
Williamson County Schools allocated $1.5 million so students had access to a Chromebook and online learning management systems such as Schoology and Google Classroom, and digital learning tools like Zoom and Screencastify.
MNPS committed $24 million in funding from the federal CARES Act to provide each student a laptop and internet connectivity. And, of course, the school system’s business partners were ready to lend a hand, as well.
“Our business partners are right there to say, ‘So, do you need me to come help hand out instructional supplies or food boxes or whatever that might be?’” Gilley says. “They’re just amazing.”
Power in Partnership
Companies in the Nashville region are vested in building a talent pipeline. In fact, a number of firms with a presence in the area have formed partnerships with local schools, higher education institutions and education-related nonprofits to provide a career roadmap to students.
AllianceBernstein, which relocated its headquarters from New York to Nashville in 2018, has made building a stronger, broader workforce the key focus of its philanthropic efforts.
“As AllianceBernstein is hiring talented people for our Nashville office, we are also focused on investing in Middle Tennessee’s future workforce,” says Seth Bernstein, the investment firm’s CEO. “We believe a strong talent pool begins with education.”
In 2019, AllianceBernstein donated $125,000 to the Martha O’Bryan Center, a Nashville-based anti-poverty organization, to support the expansion of the center’s efforts to coach students as they transition to college or other postsecondary programs.
That donation followed a $100,000 donation to Nashville Getting Results by Advancing Degrees (GRAD), a city-sponsored program designed to cover the costs of community college not included under the state’s Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs.
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Another financial services firm with a major presence in the region, UBS has made Nashville a focal point of its Keys to Your Future program, which provides technology and personalized tools to help guide students to career options after high school.
Amazon, which is locating its East Coast operations center in Nashville, committed $800,000 to endow a computer science professor at Tennessee State University. The company also committed to providing money and support to 21 Nashville public schools.
If you'd like to learn more about the Nashville area, check out the latest edition of Nashville Area Economic Development.