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Making a difference in schools
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How can a business get an injection of cutting-edge technical know-how and enthusiasm without blowing the budget? How can one begin to make a real difference in his or her community in just an hour per week? These questions and more were answered at the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce’s annual Engage in Education event "I Can Do That!" at the Rockdale Career Academy on Tuesday. Local business owners and leaders, key Rockdale County Public Schools staff and school board members came together at the meeting, designed to encourage and spotlight involvement from the business community in mentoring and internship programs.

The win-win aspect of these partnerships was a recurring theme of the luncheon event beginning with a delicious spread prepared by RCA’s Culinary Arts students. The audience, made up of leaders and business owners throughout the community, was regaled with inspiring and practical tips on how their involvement can not only make a measurable difference in a child’s life, but also create a ripple effect throughout the entire community.

April Fallon, RCPS’s director of Community Involvement, explained how "protective factors," like mentoring, change the landscape for at-risk youth by improving attitudes, grades and attendance. "When you hear success stories of children beating the odds, I guarantee you there’s a common denominator – a mentor," she said.

United Community Bank’s Julia Chandler gave a bigger-picture scenario of her experience as a Partner in Education. "These kids are going to be people I employ one day. I want to make sure they have a role model to look up to – someone they see in the schools giving back to the community. The parents see this too, and a lot of times they come into our bank because they appreciate we’re in the schools," she said.

Pratt Industries’ Jim Ross drove home the mutually beneficial point of having interns on board. Dean Lovering, an intern from Rockdale Magnet School, helped resolve a problem that had stumped four engineers by taking a fresh look. Sometimes "the solutions have been stored so deep we need help to bring them to focus," Ross said. "When you have an intern that can come in and help your business grow, you know the educational system is doing what they’re supposed to be doing."

RCA senior Shelby Watson, an environmental health and safety intern at Solo Cup, said working with "real world" regulations and OSHA requirements brings her closer to one of her goals of working with an EPA Emergency Response Crew someday. Her sense of accomplishment in "giving back to them to relieve their workload" during her 10-15 hour weekly stint and her role in the Technical Student Association "have combined into making me an extraordinary person," she said. Depending on the situation, apprentices and interns not only gain invaluable industry insight, but also can earn money and course credit.

Prudential Colony Realty’s Brandi Wells related the quality of schools tops the list of potential home buyers. Wells wrapped the event with perspective gained through her countless volunteer roles in the school system. "The hardest step is really the decision to get involved…You can tailor the experience to fit you. Basically, you change lives. Not only the life of a child, but most of all you change your own life with the gift of giving. Children are the future. Make an investment with possibility for exponential growth and say ‘I can do that,’" she said.

For more information on mentoring programs and volunteer opportunities, call (770)483-4713 or visit RCPS is having a 2010-11 Mentoring Kick Off ice cream social at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 1 to show appreciation for past mentors and for those who would like to know more about the program. Those interested in attending should RSVP to (770)860-4242 by Monday.

For more information on internships, contact Jeff Rogers, Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator, at (770)388-5677 ext. 31303 or