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Akron’s future depends on making connections in the classroom and beyond -- United Way will help

By DAVID W. JAMES SR., SUPERINTENDENT OF AKRON PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND UNITED WAY OF SUMMIT COUNTY BOARD MEMBER

Just recently, representatives of a large automotive company paid a visit to Akron’s East Community Learning Center’s Automotive Technology Program. They got to see a class of 30 students learn to disassemble and rebuild car engines. When I spoke to one of the representatives afterwards, he remarked how impressed he was by the students’ passion and talent. “I would hire five of these kids right now,” he said.

This school year marks the debut of the College and Career Academies of Akron, which will replicate this dynamic across the Akron Public Schools system. By allowing students to choose a thematic course of study that corresponds to their areas of personal interest, the Academies will help kids leverage their passions and talents into the kind of real-world skills that will help them succeed in college and stand out in an increasingly competitive workforce.

Ultimately, this is about looking at the bigger picture. Often, when we talk about the future of our community, we talk about how individual institutions are changing – how Akron Public Schools or United Way of Summit County, for example, are changing. But what really matters is how those institutions can work together to develop the human capital that Akron’s future depends on.

As a United Way board member and a member of its Community Impact Task Force, I was personally involved in the development of its four Bold Goals for 2025. In order for those goals to succeed, we will need a community that is full of people ready to lift it up, rather than to need lifting themselves. We must build a community that is prepared, at all levels, to produce educated citizens who can innovate, make things, create new inventions and develop groundbreaking ideas.

That is the mission of the College and Career Academies, and achieving it will require contributions from all sectors of the local community. That is why Akron Public Schools is teaming up with United Way of Summit County to broker partnerships between the Academies and local businesses. These partnerships will draw on United Way’s deep and longstanding connections across the business community to provide students with mentors and facilitate internships, career shadowing and other hands-on, work-relevant experiences.

On the other side of things, we will be able to work with local businesses and employers to identify in-demand skills and prepare our students to meet the needs of the modern workforce. This way, United Way and Akron Public Schools will ensure not only that students graduate ready for college or a career, but that graduates will be ready to contribute to the local community. This isn’t about pigeonholing kids into a set career path. It’s about pinpointing their passions and providing an education that can connect the dots between a talented student and a successful professional.

The future of Greater Akron hinges on our making that connection.

David W. James Sr. is superintendent of Akron Public Schools and a United Way of Summit County board member.