Let’s work together on this.
That should be a mantra for the Colorado Springs business and nonprofit communities. When I arrived here nearly a decade ago, partnerships were rare and organizational silos were the norm.
But I’ve seen a renewed drive for teamwork to break down those barriers, and the results have been astounding. Living up to the “community” in our name, Pikes Peak Community College has been honored to play a part in that cooperative spirit, partnering with dozens of organizations in the past few years.
I want to tell you about four partnership efforts our college is undertaking, all designed to attack poverty — on campus and beyond.
The first is Career Boost.
This innovative program, kicked off this fall, is tackling the shortage of skilled workers in manufacturing, information technology and child development. That may sound strange because our college already provides programs in those fields and we’re regularly graduating trained workers into those areas.
But Career Boost reaches the people who would never consider going to college. They may have language barriers. They may be struggling with homelessness. They may be stuck in minimum-wage jobs and not even realize they’re underemployed.
Career Boost gives them the ultimate hands up, getting them from the initial class to waiting jobs in just a few months and for a very low cost.
One thing that makes this program so effective is a new kind of education model called I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program). It uses a collaborative team-teaching approach that pairs skill training with math and English instruction. In other words, if a student needs to trim a wire in manufacturing class, he or she will apply math to calculate the length of the wire, and if the student doesn’t understand a term or phrase, an English teacher will dive in to explain.
It’s an accelerated-training approach that works. But we couldn’t do it without our essential Career Boost partners: Colorado Springs School District 11 Adult & Family Education, the Pikes Peak Workforce Center and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (which provided the funding).
Classes are offered evenings and weekends to fit around most regular work schedules. Six-week introductory classes are free. Additional classes are $50 to $75 each and financial assistance is available.
Another recent PPCC partnership started this fall as a one-time food giveaway for students in need. Care & Share pulled up a mobile pantry and we set up some tables, expecting maybe 100 to 200 students. Hours before we opened, hundreds of students lined up around the block. We gave away 4,500 pounds of food.
Of course, I’ve read about food insecurity nationwide, and I’ve talked to our students and staff about the issue. I also know that our college has a higher percentage of Pell Grant-eligible students than any other in our state system. But I don’t think any of us knew the extent of the problem here until we saw those crowds.
Two of our professors, Anne-Marie Manning and Tiko Hardy, had created this partnership with Care & Share, and they saw that need as a call to arms. They increased the giveaway to more than 10,000 pounds of food (bumped to 19,000 pounds before the holidays, thanks to a gift from the El Pomar Foundation) and arranged to do it every month.
These efforts mean that fewer students are going to bed hungry, and that’s a win from any perspective. For their work in creating this initiative, Hardy and Manning will soon receive the Red Cross Hometown Heroes Award. Well deserved.
Our most recent partnership is with Pikes Peak United Way: 211 at PPCC. The idea here was born out of the realization that we are simply not equipped to handle all the complexities of student poverty. Fortunately, United Way is dedicated to hands-on help for people in need of food, clothing, emergency shelter, utilities, counseling, medical and dental care and more.
Trained navigators on campus can connect students to whatever they need.
Finally, I’d like to share our ongoing enthusiasm for The Quad Innovation Partnership. This unprecedented team initiative marshals the educational forces of PPCC, Colorado College, the U.S. Air Force Academy and UCCS to incubate inventiveness. Quad students are currently teaming with the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County to improve access to social services.
All of these efforts are possible when we learn to play well together, when we pool our resources and our areas of expertise and we focus on our shared goals.
Lance Bolton, president of PPCC, can be reached at email@example.com.