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Connect Newton experiences 'best year yet'
Connect Newton

COVINGTON, Ga. — Five years ago, the Newton County Industrial Development Authority (NCIDA) and Newton County School System (NCSS) partnered to do one main thing — Bridge the gap between educators and the business world in Newton County. 

Hence the program — Connect Newton Teacher Externship. 

This year’s program was the week of May 29 and ended on June 2 with the largest cohort of 25 educators and eight industries represented. 

NCIDA Executive Director Serra Hall is excited to see the continued progression. 

“This started with a few industries, a few educators and now we’re the largest that we have been. We have industries begging to get in and we’ve had to cut it off at times,” Hall said. “We’ve had educators that we had to really think about, ‘How do we select?’ That’s incredible. For us, it’s really amazing to see the growth and excitement about these two worlds coming together.” 

Vice President of Economic Development Asher Dozier added commentary concerning the growth of the program, too. 

“I think every year is awesome,” Dozier said. “This year is my favorite because we had the most impact. The goal is to impact as many students as we can with positive outcomes for their life. So, I think this is the best year yet, because we had the biggest impact.” 

The program allows for middle and high school educators to shadow, get hands-on experience and understand the different industries Newton County has to offer. Every year, the week ends with an Educator Externship Celebration with this year’s being held at the Newton College and Career Academy on June 2. 

Year-by-year Involvement Statistics

2018:  12 Educators, 3 companies 

2019:  24 Educators, 6 companies 

2020:  (Virtual)  18 Educators, 6 companies 

2021:  24 Educators, 6 companies 

2022: 24 Educators, 6 companies 

2023:  25 Educators, 8 companies 

It is not just limited to core class educators either. Art teachers, science teachers, media specialists and others can participate. In fact, the 2023 cohort featured two or three familiar faces who have taken part in previous years. 

Having increasing numbers makes one thing evident to Hall. 

“It shows the will and want of the educator to really get involved in their community, which we love,” Hall said. “They realize it’s not a burden to take out of their summer. They realize this is actually exciting and a luxury to really be able to be with one another.” 

In addition to Hall, NCCA Chief Executive Officer Chad Walker, NCSS Chief Operating Officer Dr. Michael Barr and Covington’s assistant city manager John King were among the many present. 

Also showing her support for the program on Friday was NCSS Board of Education Vice-Chair Abigail Coggin. 

Coggin explained how significant it was to witness Friday’s festivities. 

“The externship program is an amazing opportunity for our teachers to take advantage of,” Coggin said. “Not only do they learn about the companies that support our community, but they also gain valuable insight as to what type of employees those companies need. That real world knowledge allows them to connect their classroom  and lessons back to the companies.  I am proud that our local manufacturers support this program. It shows they are committed to Newton County and its future, which is so important.” 

Featured among the eight businesses were returners General Mills, Michelin, Nisshinbo, SRG Global, Takeda and Verescence. Bridgestone Golf and McKinley Packaging were newcomers in 2023.

Bridgestone Golf’s team had Gregory Tanks and Mary Catherine Whisnant. Serrita Carr was on General Mills’ team. 

Nelven Bedford, Alisa Echols, Krystal Stanford and Tiffany Woods learned the ins and outs of McKinley Packaging. Michelin had Allison Gilbert, Veronica Houssel, Calvin Padhgett and Andrea Parks. 

Nisshinbo’s educators were Juli-ette Goldston, Dwayaa Ward and Adrian Whisnant. SRG Global showcased its business to Megan Buchanan, Brittany McCranie and Crishanta Williams. 

Jennifer George, Shakena Gray, Mack Hardwick and Royce Lawson-Woods were with Takeda. Manny Fils, Melissa Parker, Shakeria Taylor and Caleb Watson shadowed Verescence. 

Hall believes further advancement is imminent in the years to come, especially being past the COVID-19 era. 

“Now coming back, being in-person and being larger than ever, I think really shows the will and want of the community to get back together,” Hall said. “I think it’s just really a matter of time.” 

And, as far as how much further Connect Newton can grow over the next few years, Hall feels like the sky’s the limit. 

“When business and education meet, opportunities are endless,” Hall said. “From our education system to provide our students and citizens here in Newton County, their opportunities are like any other in the world of what you can do and be able to establish here in Covington. We just have to hone into and harness it. 

“Our industries are premiere. We cannot thank our industries enough to open up their doors and be willing to do so. We know what they bring to the table for us and it just means a lot.”