Chamber working to get businesses involved in schools

The Odessa Chamber of Commerce is on a mission to get businesses involved in Odessa schools and encourage parental involvement. One of its tools is the School at Work/Work at School program.
The chamber has always had an education committee, but it had gone dormant for a while, Chamber President and CEO Renee Earls said. Generally speaking, she said the community had taken its eye off the ball in terms of education, the city and other governmental entities.
“We found as a community that nobody was taking care of it and here we are, so hopefully we’ve done a 180 and getting hands-on, not only with education but other prospects,” Earls said.
In late 2016 or early 2017, the chamber “reinvigorated” its education committee. Odessa American Publisher Pat Canty was chosen as the chairman of that committee.
“We chose Pat because he is a past chairman. He’s involved in other education aspects; the Education Foundation and some others, so he agreed to lead that charge,” Earls said.
A subcommittee was formed to figure out a name for the mentoring program. Graphics classes at Odessa and Permian high schools were asked to come up with a design and name and the School at Work/Work at School program was born. The symbol is an infinity sign, so Earls said it works both ways and never ends.
In early 2017, the chamber held its annual spring retreat and the focus was education “to the point where we spent a day and a half talking about all aspects of education, be it the school district, Odessa College, UTPB, Texas Tech,” Earls said.
“That’s kind of where this was born, talking about the importance of getting the business community back involved with the school district,” she added.
Adrian Vega, who is on the education committee and executive board member of the Education Partnership, said the School at Work/Work at School idea came out of the chamber retreat.
Vega said it could also extend to internships or job shadowing for Odessa College and University of Texas of the Permian Basin students.
“It was a way to get the business community intentionally involved in the education of the community,” Vega said.
The chamber could also let businesses know that there is a menu of options they could take advantage of to support education, he added. Businesses that may not be that large could adopt a school or a classroom, Vega said.
Debbie Lieb, community liaison specialist, said the district appreciates the chamber’s support and is excited about the School at Work/Work at School initiative.
“We are stronger together as a community. Our community engagement shows students that we care about them and we believe in them and that we as a community value education,” Lieb said. “When our business community invests in education and schools it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The month after the board retreat, the chamber realized there was a major housing shortage it was hard to recruit teachers because they couldn’t find a place to live.
“Some communities are dealing with one or two major problems. We’re dealing with education issues, housing issues, road and transportation issues. We’re really bursting at the seams and it’s affecting all the infrastructure in every entity we have I think we’re in a unique situation as a community where we have a lot of major issues, but also great opportunity. It’s a domino effect. It’s an exciting time to be in Odessa. It’s never boring, but it’s very challenging,” Earls said.
Many of the chamber’s 800-plus members are small businesses, Earls said.
“If we make it very easy for them allow them to get the connection with the school district, hopefully we can reach more businesses and get them more involved. I really believe that once they’re involved they’ll do a little something. It’s as if you get a lot more out of it than you put into it,” Earls said.
She added that everyone knows how important parental involvement is.
“If the business allows them to go to an assembly, a reading opportunity, a sporting event that is so important. By encouraging the parents to do that and allowing the parents to do that, that right there can make a huge difference in that student’s life,” Earls said.
Chamber staff reads for the Bookworms program, which takes 30 minutes once a month. Businesses can also get involved on a per campus basis, district wide, or by contributing funds to the district.
“It’s very easy to do, but if a business doesn’t really know how to go about that, or if they really don’t have someone in their office staff to do that we can be a conduit for that. The bottom line is to get businesses involved and encourage parental involvement,” Earls said.
The committee meets again in mid-January. Earls said she is hoping to have a template for them that narrows down opportunities to get involved. She said she got a list of about 240 organizations and people involved in the schools from ECISD and narrowed them down to 10 to 15.
That way, things that are needed in the district can be pointed out, entities can figure out what they’re interested in and contact the chamber for it to act as a conduit with the district.
The Education Committee meets Jan. 15.