When Dan England of C.R. England Inc. walked into the Horizonte School to tell students about careers in the trucking industry, he probably didn’t know a lot about cone organizations in the school district, or Urban Rural Opportunities Grants. But he and hundreds of other businessmen knew they wanted to help.

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Students at Parkview Elementary enjoy the activities during a “Spirit of the Games” presentation by the Chamber’s Leadership Utah Alumni.

So they showed up in elementary schools helping students learn basic skills, and they helped junior highs with field trips and internships. And they showed high school students that businesses offer a greater variety of jobs than they might think–tracking large trucking rigs by satellite, for example, or running company-sponsored day-care centers.

Some 100 firms affiliated with the Salt Lake Chamber worked with the school program in 2002–double the number of just a year earlier. Virtually every week the Chamber sent its professionals into the schools to talk about the variety of career choices they have.

When the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce decided to become more heavily involved in the inner-city schools in 1997, it was surprised at what it discovered. But that also became an opportunity for more companies to become involved with the schools themselves. It’s been a rewarding experience on both sides.

In 1997 the Chamber and the Salt Lake School District became partners in a $1.6 million Urban Rural Opportunities Grant from the federal government. The grants were set up to help students in poverty-qualified areas get extra help from the community. So Don Johnson, the School to Career specialist with the district, and Craig Peterson, the Chamber’s chief operating officer, began examining U.S. Census Bureau statistics from 1990 as required under the guidelines. They found the required population base of 50,000 people with a 20 percent poverty rate within Salt Lake’s Central City area.

Actually, they found in some areas of the city the poverty rate as defined by the government reached 50 to 90 percent. When they presented the data to Stan Parrish, then president of the Chamber, he had a hard time believing it. But when convinced, he approved the Chamber’s involvement in what became a work-based learning experience for the schools.

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Jeff Nilsson of XO Communications helps a student get into a special harness to try out aerial maneuvers just like Olympic Freestyle skiers.

The Chamber helped set up a School to Career program for the district. It was based on State School Office guidelines, and it organized the city into three cones. Each cone consisted of the elementary and junior highs that fed into one high school. Thus the Chamber formed partnerships with Horizonte, West High and East High schools.

In 1996 the Utah State Legislature passed the Student Education Occupation Program (SEOP). It mandated that students in grades seven through twelve be counseled twice a year in setting career goals. The goals they set follow them through the grades, getting fine-tuned along the way. But that also opens the door for more involvement from the business community.

The Chamber helped set up the school programs, finding businesses willing to take students into training, providing job shadowing, group internships, guest speakers, and the like. And although the federal money was designated to help in poverty areas, everyone in the schools benefited from the programs. And the business people who participated enjoyed it, too.

The Chamber also found other ways to become involved with education. It offers insights for the state’s curriculum so that, for example, a presentation by Urban Soul Body Retreat on the chemistry of hair coloring may end up as a teaching example. The Chamber also partnered with the Deseret News Newspaper in Education program to train teachers in day-long courses in such fields as architecture or banking. That also gives the teachers contacts within the business community.

Most of this work is done through the Utah Job Opportunity Foundation, an entity of the Chamber.


Sources: Interview with Don Johnson, School to Career specialist in Salt Lake School District, 19 June 2002, and with Amy Reitsch, Salt Lake Chamber director of education, 20 June 2002. Deseret News, 5 August 1996.