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Excellence in Education Grant Awards Announced!

Kent County’s educational system was the topic of celebration last week at a dinner that brought public school and university leaders into one room, as the Delaware State News hosted the 2021 Excellence in Education awards in Harrington on Nov. 10.

“The purpose of the program is to brand and market our educational initiatives … so businesses feel good about coming to our county and our schools,” said Tonda Parks, a founder of the Excellence in Education Fund and event marketing/community outreach director at the Delaware State News.

Excellence in Education is a county-wide partnership between the Kent County Levy Court, Kent Economic Partnership, Greater Kent Committee, the Delaware State News and the community.

Grants are also awarded each November to schools and nonprofits working toward EIE goals; for the past few years, the theme has been education programs for workforce development. (Two interim awards were also granted in spring of 2021.) Applications are judged by a panel of community leaders.

Past grants have helped pay for IT training, professional certification tests, advertising to expand enrollment and high school career-technical education (CTE). The grants can help groups fill other gaps in funding.

This month, a Dover training program for budding entrepreneurs received the first $5,000. NCALL runs the Launcher program, a 12-week program that teaches adult concrete business skills, everything from funding and management to customer service and supply chains.

“We take entrepreneurs, those who just have a passion for business, don’t really understand the business aspect of it, and teach them everything,” said Will Grimes, NCALL director of operations.

Many of their 130 graduates have already opened businesses in downtown Dover, vibrating with available storefronts and budding talent. Launcher is one element of the Restoring Central Dover initiative under NCALL (National Council on Agricultural Life & Labor Research Fund Inc.).

Meanwhile, the Green Beret Project is taking what they know about teamwork and applying it to Dover youth. They were awarded $7,500 to continue their robust after-school program, which includes “Equipping Youth for Success.” It equips economically disadvantaged youth ages 13 to 18 with positive adult role models and the opportunity to explore various career fields.

“The overarching goal of the Green Beret Project is to empower youth as they become successful and influential members of their communities,” organizers said.

The veteran-founded group uses coalition-building methods “to equip socio-economically disadvantaged youth in Kent County with the necessary skills, strategies and resources required to flourish as adults.”

“We operate, as you can see back here, in a train-the-trainer model,” so older students learn to be good mentors and role models for younger members, said Adam Kramer, state director. And the adults help them with “building long-term relationships, seeking avenues of what they are good at, nutrition, health, help them get good grades, …walk alongside them through life.”

New training program offered to Kent

Speaking of job training, the charitable branch of the National Retail Federation had a proposition for Kent County schools: the NRF Foundation has a training curriculum, Excellence in Education has funding, and all that’s needed is a classroom.

“More than two-thirds of American teenagers do not work by the time they are 18,” so they’re entering college or the workforce with zero experience.

“Having your students work at age 16, 17 is one of the most important things they can do, said guest speaker Adam Lukoskie. He started as a Wal-Mart greeter at age 16 and now is vice president of the NRF Foundation.

The NPF Foundation worked with business partners to design a “Warehouse Inventory and Logistics” curriculum that he invited schools to consider using. It’s one of their six RISE Up training programs on various topics, which have educated around 400,000 participants.

These skills are transferable. Not only do students learn the process and vocabulary of the field, but also critical life and employability skills, like customer service, timeliness, responsibility, interview skills and how to manage or be managed.

“It’s geared toward that entry-level warehouse job,” but that’s often where employers look for their staff to advance. Students will learn about managerial language and how to ask for a raise or promotional opportunities because “no one wants to be a picker forever,” Mr. Lukoskie said.

Some jobs are currently starting at $20 per hour, which can lead to a salaried position or even employer-funded college opportunities.

“It’s just a rapidly growing industry. There are more of these opportunities popping up, [and] all these other roles support that,” from delivery logistics staff to safety supervisors. Plus, shopping and shipping are rapidly changing now, so system could benefit from young, fresh eyes in the system.

“I think these jobs are here to stay, and there’s a lot of technology involved in these roles, and there are career opportunities after this job,” Mr. Lukoskie said. “I think it shows retail’s commitment to training the next generation of workers,” whether they remain in that field or not.

“We have the funding to help this type of program at the grassroots level,” Ms. Parks told the audience. “I hope you’ll talk to Adam and consider how we might be able to incorporate it. Our focus is on warehouse and logistics, but that can change. The bottom line is we want our kids in Kent County to stay here, and we want our employers and businesses to come here and know that we have skill-based people.”

Investing for the future

The Kent County Levy Court was “very pleased” to donate toward Excellence in Education, said President Terry Pepper. “Programs like this make a significant impact on central Delaware.”

“Strong newspapers exist in strong communities. We [as a company] are here because of the people in this room,” said Konrad LaPrade, DSN vice president of sales and marketing, handing the company’s donation to Ms. Parks.

“Thank you for your commitment and congratulations to our awardees,” Ms. Parks told the room full of educators and investors. “Over the past three years, we’ve received donations for the next five years: $78,850.”

The 2022 grant cycle will open soon, with details and qualifications listed at cendelfoundation.org.

The Excellence in Education Fund is managed by the CenDel Foundation at (302) 724-7538 or cendelfoundation.org. Sponsorships and partnerships opportunities are also available by contacting Tonda Parks at tparks@iniusa.org or (302) 270-8663.

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