Prince George's County is expanding an employment education program that enlists major employers in the county as "sponsors" of public schools and uses their managers and executives as classroom resources.
Ten major businesses will be sending representatives into ninth-grade classrooms at 17 county schools this year to talk to more than 500 students about the economic structure of the businesses they represent, the jobs available in those businesses and the skills needed.
They also will talk about work habits, as well as how to fill out a job application and respond in an interview.
About half of the high school graduates in Prince George's do not go on to college. The program is designed to help acquaint those students with work opportunities early on and to teach them what to expect when they apply for jobs.
School officials said students often heed the advice of potential employers more than that of their parents or teachers.
"When a businessman rips up a job application form right in front of them because they filled it out in pencil instead of ink, then their eyes bug out," said Raymond Zimmerman, career development coordinator for the county schools.
The program, begun on a more modest scale at three Prince George's schools in 1977, is the biggest effort thus far by school superintendent Edward J. Feeney to involve business in the school system.
A similar program begun in the District in 1979 has brought representatives of more than 100 businesses and organizations into 45 secondary schools in the city.
"Education is everybody's business," Feeney declared to a group of the business representatives at a kickoff seminar last week. He added that such corporate involvement in the schools is on the increase all over the country. School systems in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Boston and Atlanta have adopted similar programs, he said.
Ninth-grade teachers from the participating Prince George's schools met with the business representatives last week to plan subject material for up to five lessons that will begin this week in some schools.
"It's something we should have been doing a long time ago," Feeney said.
The business involvement program is expanding at a time when county funding for a wide range of school programs is shrinking and threatened by tight budgets.
Feeney's budget, for example, was cut by $31 million last year and faces almost certain cuts this year as well. Because there is no money in the budget for new programs, volunteer efforts such as the business program bring instructors into the schools at no cost. The school system is also considering incorporating the program into a "career high school concept" in which business would actually run career training programs in the schools.
"There's certainly an added incentive to making the partnership productive because of the current economic conditions," said Prince George's Chamber of Commerce spokesman Rick Maize, who noted that county businesses have participated in school work-study programs for many years.
School sponsors include Desks and Furnishings Co., Digital Equipment Corp., M.S. Ginn Co., Pepco and Maryland National Bank. One firm, John Hanson Savings and Loan Association, is sponsoring six schools, one for each of its branches in the county. William Brandon III, a vice president of John Hanson, worked with students at Benjamin Stoddert Junior High School last year.
"When we hand them job application forms they will often sit down and not have any idea how to fill them out," Brandon said.
"It's important to impress upon them that it's not as easy as it looks to come out and get a job," said High Point High School teacher Barbara Parker, who will be working with representatives from John Hanson as part of her civics course this year.