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School Business Partnerships Helping Southeast Michigan Kids

From small shops to auto giants like GM, businesses are getting more involved in education. Could these 'win-win' arrangements keep growing?

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In some cases, it's a mom-and-pop. In others, it's giant corporations. But one thing's sure in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties: Businesses are partnering with local schools, helping expand curricula and augment student's education.

For them, it’s a chance to give back, get publicity and shape the upcoming workforce. For schools, it helps stretch funds and prepare students for requirements beyond the ABCs of education. Will such partnerships continue to expand?

Partnerships in action

One example happened in Oakland County every Sunday last fall. A group of middle schoolers from First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham gathered at Schakolad Chocolate Factory, also in Birmingham, for Sunday school.

Inspired by high-school students from the church who have spent the last three years at a local coffee shop for their religious lessons, these sixth through eighth graders walked across the street to a more comfortable setting to learn about God, faith and community in a pilot program to take learning outside of the classroom.

"An innovative setting encourages attendance," says the Rev. Amy Morgan, associate pastor and director of youth ministries at First Presbyterian in Birmingham. "The location was a draw. Also, if we are talking in public: the idea is that faith or religion is something that can be talked about publicly. Sometimes, youth feel like religion has become a taboo subject. How we act in the world and how we understand the world are inextricably intertwined.

"And so the appropriate place to have conversations about faith are out in the world, sharing a cup of hot chocolate, telling stories about our lives and trying to make meaning of it all."

Douglas Cale, owner of Schakolad in Birmingham, believes business owners should support community institutions.

"After all, it is only together that we create a whole community. You never know where a collaboration might take you. They are our next-door neighbors, and we want to be part of the 'hood. And for us, it was free marketing to the congregation."

Cale partners with schools in other ways, too: donating products to fundraisers and spotlighting the local school district as a nonprofit partner of the month, giving the school exposure and a fundraising opportunity in the store.

Gaining steam

Across the country, schools big and small are partnering with neighborhood businesses and big conglomerates – benefiting students, teachers and communities – according to Education World, a San Diego-based website designed to be "a home for educators on the Internet."

According to a recent Education World article, "Any school leader who is not taking advantage of potential business partnerships in and surrounding their community is missing a tremendous opportunity – an opportunity most businesses are eager to pursue."

Schools have long turned to local businesses for special programs, assemblies or guest speakers – but with increased funding cuts for education, they are now finding that local businesses can provide programs to supplement and enrich their curricula, too.

What's more, the collaboration brings a win-win outcome for both entities: Students are exposed to an increasing array of perspectives and insights into the outside world, and businesses gain exposure to a new audience of potential customers and contribute to the education of the next generation of employees.

Local and global focus

Recently, Garden Fresh Gourmet, the Ferndale-based food company known for its award-winning salsa, was invited to Norup International School in Oak Park, part of the Berkley School District, to present to the second grade as part of its community curriculum. Garden Fresh was an example of a community producer.

"What I heard from (my daughter) Sophia is 'they worked hard, they started with an idea, and we got free chips and salsa,'" says Lisa Hawley, a Norup parent and chair of the counseling department in the Oakland University School of Education and Human Services. "You want educational institutions not isolated from their communities – and vice versa."

Norup's principal, Paul Yowchuang, was pleased with the Garden Fresh involvement.

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