California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II


 The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce is a bipartisan gathering of education secretaries and business leaders. In a 2007 report, Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (PDF; Outside Source), the members emphasized the importance of preparing students with new skills for a new economy.

Strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this, candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.1

Business partners wear many hats in schools. Traditionally, they have been active in elementary schools for motivational reasons and in high schools for career connections. However, the opportunity to influence young adolescents before they give up and drop out makes middle grades partnerships a vital role for businesses.

In the Spotlight

George A. Buljan Middle School, Roseville City Elementary School District
The physical education department is planning how to use experts in medicine, physical therapy, endocrinology, nutrition, biochemistry, and other health-related disciplines to aid the connection between healthy lifestyles, healthy body, and healthy mind.

Richard Henry Dana Middle School, Wiseburn Elementary School District, a 2006 Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage Model School
Local aerospace and technology firms work closely with Dana’s staff members to provide exciting enrichment opportunities to motivate students. For example, local engineers led the after-school robotics club in building an award-winning underwater robot.

Sierra Preparatory Academy, Santa Ana Unified School District
Eighty-five percent of the children at Sierra Preparatory Academy qualify for free lunches, and the typical student is present for only two-thirds of the school year. These students need incentives to stay in school. To meet that need, law firm partners reinforced the importance of striving for excellence with cash prizes for eighth graders studying algebra. Partners believed that the prize structure reflected the reality of a global economy. (Current research shows that college graduates earn 73 percent more than nongraduates do.) An awards night lets parents bask in the accomplishments of their children. Because of the success of the program, sponsors added a program in U.S. history for about 340 Sierra Intermediate students and repeated the algebra competition. Lawyers from the firm also met with students and talked about the types of jobs that college graduates could attain. Students were amazed to learn there were jobs that continue to pay wages when workers are sick. Others were surprised to learn that workers could receive three weeks of paid vacation per year. As the girl who won $140 wrote, “I think this type of stuff encourages us to do our best.”2


Business partners can play some of the following roles:

  • As members of advisory committees, they help the school understand community concerns about accountability and the need to prepare students for careers.
  • As mentors, they introduce young adolescents to the many career options available to them and help them begin to set goals for their future.
  • As schoolwide partners (in programs such as Adopt-a-School), they support school fund-raising efforts, reward students for achievement, and provide needed resources.
  • As partners with teacher teams, business people help teachers infuse real-world examples into their lessons. For example, engineering firms can provide guest lecturers and demonstrations to make mathematics and science lessons more relevant to young adolescents.

In the Spotlight

Aliso Viejo Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
Local businesses support the Associated Student Body (ASB) students with money, supplies, and expertise for student awards programs throughout the year.

Raytheon Corporation.
The company developed Math Moves U, an interactive Web site that shows relevant applications of mathematics in the real world. Several middle schools use the site as a mathematics tutorial for students in the computer lab.


Citizen Schools is a national education initiative that mobilizes thousands of adult volunteers to help improve student achievement through skill-building apprenticeships after school. The programs blend real-world learning projects with rigorous academic and leadership development activities, preparing students in the middle grades for success in high school, college, the workforce, and civic life.

Citizen Schools now serves 2,000 mostly disadvantaged students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades in 30 schools and seven states (California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and Texas). Students spend approximately 400 hours a year taking part in projects, activities, and academic tutoring led by doctors, lawyers, architects, chefs, artists, and many others who try to inspire them to think about college and careers of their own.

According to an independent study (2005), the Citizen Schools model helps student achieve. The study found that participants experienced improvement in their reading and mathematics test scores and class grades. Grade-to-grade promotion, attendance rates, and performance in high school also improved.3

Related Links

Adult mentors

Nonprofit organizations

1Tough Choices or Tough Times: The Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (PDF; Outside Source) (Executive Summary). Washington, D.C.: National Center on Education and the Economy, 2007, 8.
2Scott Feldman, " Cash for Grades; A Santa Ana School Trades the Green Stuff for Good Algebra Scores" (PDF; Outside Source), Los Angeles Times (August 15, 2006).
3L. Fabiano, L. M. Pearson, and I. J. Williams, "Putting Students on a Pathway to Academic and Social Success: Phase III Findings of the Citizen Schools Evaluation." Washington, D.C.: Policy Studies Associates, November 2005."

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