Connecting Cobb business leaders and students.
When you consider your community, what aspects of it are the most important to you? If you’re a parent, education is bound to be near the top of your list. But it’s more than just parents who care about the quality and opportunities their local education system brings to the table—anyone concerned with the economic development of an area cares about education and strives to make it better for everyone in the community.
In Cobb County, local businesses thrive year after year as business leaders and entrepreneurs alike take on leadership roles within the community. One thing Cobb businesses excel at is getting involved with students in ways that benefit both the schools and Cobb’s economic climate. With the Marietta Reads! and Partners in Education initiatives connecting school and businesses, the supporting link between business and education is working to further improve the quality of Cobb’s education.
When Dr. Emily Lembeck, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, saw that a reading initiative in St. Paul, Minn., was having great success, she began to investigate. What she discovered was that a similar project in Marietta was not only possible, but much needed. “With the influx of technology, it was becoming more apparent that student achievement and reading comprehension needed to improve,” says Lembeck. “I saw what [St. Paul was] doing and really felt that this would be something that would be really good, not just for our students and school system, but for our city.”
Marietta Reads! is a citywide effort to foster literacy and reading in Marietta and all of Cobb County. Students earn Accelerated Reader points based on the difficulty of books they’re reading and their performance on Accelerated Reader tests. Students share book reviews and recommend books to each other, which encourages their classmates and friends to read. The Student Incentives section of mariettareads.org makes it easy for students of all grade levels to use the system and gain not only verbal praise and reinforcement but awards, certificates and prizes as well. As recorded by Accelerated Reader, the Marietta City School District’s students have read 45,333 books.
Lembeck and her team of supporters began Marietta Reads! with three goals. “First, to get our students to read better, more widely and more critically,” says Lembeck. “To engage the community in supporting us, and there were many ways—as volunteers, helping us to purchase books, helping us to purchase and provide motivators to get students who want to read, to hook them on reading. Thirdly, we really wanted our adults and community leaders to serve as literacy leaders, to model the joy and the importance of literacy and reading.”
Marietta Reads! has many business partnerships and many Cobb businesses promote the program in the workplace, encouraging staff to get involved and volunteer. Because of Marietta Reads!, Marietta was named an All-America City in 2006, as judges recognized the effort to foster reading and literacy in the community. Other area partnerships include Barnes and Noble, Scholastic Books, Zaxby’s, the Marietta Schools Foundation, Marietta Power, Cobb EMC, the Credit Union of Georgia, Chick-fil-A, the Kiwanis Club of Marietta and the Rotary Club of Marietta. “We’ve sustained partnerships and interest for 11 years and that often does not happen,” says Lembeck, “but I think the reason to have this focus is so compelling.”
In many ways, Marietta Reads! has had powerful influence outside the city. Their partnership with the Cobb County Library was the impetus behind the One Book Cobb focus, and Lembeck has gone to South Korea on economic development trips where the Marietta Reads! mascot, Mary Etta, was a huge hit at their libraries and schools. One of the most rewarding aspects of the program’s success is the increase in the number of books in students’ at-home libraries, as more than 30,000 books have been given to students who otherwise would not have had them. “I do believe that we have helped to establish the joy of reading,” says Lembeck, “and I hope that is a lifelong joy for the students that we serve in the school district and for others in our community.”
Partners in Education
The Partners in Education program was started by the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce as well as the Cobb County and Marietta City school systems in 1986 when a group of educators and local business leaders saw the need for community involvement in schools. Designed to meet the needs of local schools through the resources of community partners, these support systems benefit both organizations and the entire community. At its inception, the program began with four businesses working with a school, and has grown to include more than 1,300 partnerships in the past 27 years.
Education and Workforce Development Coordinator Hannah Orr says there’s a myriad of ways local businesses can get involved with schools in the area. “Either a school can approach a business in their community to begin the partnership, or a business will approach the Cobb Chamber to find local schools in their area in which to get involved and support,” says Orr. “The school and business then meet to discuss their needs and resources available. The activities that businesses participate in with schools range from mentoring to school supply donations and providing lunch for teachers.”
Once a business and school have outlined a partnership plan highlighting the activities the business will be participating in, the Chamber processes it and sends certificates and seals to the school to plan a signing ceremony with the business. Each school in Cobb County and Marietta City is involved. Collaboration from the community in accomplishing goals of annual school improvement plans, as well as business expertise and technical support, helps to provide a more complete education for students. According to Orr, the schools have benefitted from “a total estimated value of more than $8.1 million of time, money, goods and services from businesses.”
But the partnership is mutually beneficial, as businesses have the opportunity to present firsthand the expectations of the business world to students. Heightening the awareness of present and future job needs and understanding the quality and requirements of the public school system, whose health is vital to the economic well-being of the community, benefits both employer and employees. Boosting company morale and adding to public relations efforts are two other perks of being recognized as a community-involved company.
“The Partners in Education program brings community involvement and development, support of public education and resources that enrich and extend educational opportunities,” says Orr. “This program helps to enhance and maintain academic achievement and student success in Cobb.” Whether you can donate your time to reading with local students or you and your employees can help put more books in students’ homes, the benefits of getting involved with local education are plentiful in Cobb.