Communities nationwide have long utilized workforce development programs in high school and college. But a Toledo area initiative is targeting youngsters earlier – starting from birth and continuing through high school – to help build an educated and capable local workforce.
Aspire, a Lucas County initiative built on the foundation of the StriveTogether Network, is combining efforts of community services, organizations, educators, and businesses. The collaborative “cradle to career” initiative will use data, continuous improvement strategies and best practices to better focus community resources on helping children become healthy, caring, responsible adults.
“We realize, of course, here in Lucas County, that kids can’t learn if they’re not healthy,” said Aaron Baker, Aspire executive director.
ProMedica President and Chief Executive Officer Randy Oostra is among more than two dozen community leaders on the Aspire Board of Managers, which is chaired by Al Stroucken, O-I’s chairman and CEO.
Stroucken said Aspire will help provide a bright future both for Lucas County children and the community. “We intend Aspire to act as a catalyst,” he said.
In January 2014, Aspire released its first report to the community, Chapter One, with the five areas it wants to improve and some initial measurements:
- Healthy births. In Lucas County, 9.8% of children are born weighing less than 5.5 pounds, putting them at increased risk for serious health difficulties and potentially affecting their ability to learn and function.
- Kindergarten readiness. Only 33.1% of Lucas County children are prepared for kindergarten, a rate far below the state average of 41%
- Reading and math proficiency. Just 73.7% of Lucas County third graders are reading proficient, while only 50.1% are proficient at math. That compares to state averages of 87.3% and 73.9%, respectively.
- Post-secondary preparation. Lucas County’s graduation rate is 68.18%, while the statewide rate is 89.7%.
- Post-secondary enrollment. Research shows a correlation between higher levels of education and higher earnings, as well as other benefits, but only 45% of Lucas County high school graduates enroll in Ohio colleges.
Initially, Aspire will focus on kindergarten readiness and student preparedness for post-secondary education and training. Kindergarten readiness is key because 85% of the brain’s development takes place before the age of 5, so education needs to begin long before school.
Aspire will establish working groups of experts, called networks, around each of the five areas for which it wants to improve outcomes. These networks will study the data, identify the predominant issues, and develop short- and long-term plans to address them.
More information about Aspire and its Chapter One report is available at www.aspiretoledo.org/