ELKHART — The finer details are yet to come, but Horizon Project 2.0 unveiled Monday evening the outline of its plan to transform education in Elkhart County.
The plan, developed by a committee of local leaders, intends to establish a highly-skilled workforce by focusing on two areas: expanding early childhood education and building a college and career culture.
Dan Boecher, chairman of the steering committee for the last three years, announced Horizon’s Education Initiative at a public presentation at the Lerner Theatre.
EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
“We want our kids ready to learn,” Boecher told the crowd of several dozen.
In order to do that, the plan pushes for more early education opportunities.
Boecher said Horizon will seek to remove any barriers to participate in a quality preschool by 2020, but noted that it does not seek to make early childhood education legally required. What it is trying to do is eliminate financial, transportation or other barriers that keep families from enrolling kids in preschool, he explained.
Horizon hopes to increase participation in quality preschools by 50 percent by 2015.
Several preschool programs in the area are already doing great things that need to continue, Boecher said, recognizing Goshen College’s Music Together program, Minds in Motion and play-based learning programs that are integrated into several area preschools, and parent education programs like Early Head Start among others.
“We do not want to advocate for specific programs to go in specific districts,” Boecher clarified. “We want you to have programs that work for your community and your school district.”
The plan also recommends establishing a fund to help emerging programs in Elkhart County.
CAREER AND COLLEGE CULTURE
The Horizon committee doesn’t want high schoolers landing in front of their guidance counselors with no idea what comes next, Boecher said.
“Basically we want to be more intentional with helping our kids make that tie between what they’re doing today to what their lives are going to be like after they leave school,” Boecher explained.
Horizon seeks to create a personal career plan for all students graduating in 2015 and beyond. It also hopes to have a 50 percent year-over-year increase in the number of college credits earned by students in high school, with 90 percent of graduating students going on to earn a degree or industry-recognized certification by 2022.
Guidance counselors already have plenty to do, Boecher said, so a career coach in every high school and a network of local professionals would mentor and advise students on careers. Horizon also plans to identify at least 15 career pathways that will offer an organized way to look at career fields, what jobs are offered in those fields and what classes each requires.
While the plan calls for the college and career culture to begin in late elementary and middle school, Boecher clarified that children won’t be choosing career paths then.
Kids will “not choose a career when they’re 10 years old, but at least start the conversation,” he said. “Again, that culture starts early to get them thinking about that tie between what they’re doing now and what they’re going to do later.”
Boecher said that Horizon will be intentional about identifying what jobs need to be filled, including through conversation with local businesses.
The Horizon Education Initiative also calls for an “unprecedented level of collaboration” between local schools. The Horizon Project would be a resource to them all, but would not take on any sort of official overseeing role, Boecher said.
“What kind of offerings could we offer our kids if we used the collective resources of all the school districts?” Boecher asked.
Horizon plans to establish baseline data for both its early education and high schools initiatives. The plan also encourages implementing the ACT Compass Test to assess Elkhart County students’ college readiness.
WHAT COMES NEXT
At Monday’s presentation, Boecher announced that Brian Smith would take over as chair of the Horizon steering committee to coincide with the transition from the “discovery phase” of the project into “something approaching an implementation phase.”
Smith is the immediate past chair of the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, rising chair of the Elkhart County Community Foundation and involved with Habitat for Humanity, Boecher said.
Smith said that a board will soon be formed, consisting of educators and business people, to begin strategic planning for the project. This summer, it will then hire an executive director and some staff to begin actual implementation.
Smith said that he’s very excited to develop a well-defined and quantifiable action plan so that the project is accountable.
He said that Horizon “would be raising money in a lot of different areas,” but did not elaborate on how the project would be funded.
“Ultimately, we believe that the implementation of this education initiative will change the landscape in Elkhart County with regard to economic development, business diversity, cultural offerings and quality of life,” he said.
“In 10 years, we’re going to look back — mark my words, we’re going to look back — on this day and say ‘wow, look at all the lives that we’ve changed,’” Smith said. “So I say, let’s get to work and stay tuned.”
The slideshow from Monday night’s presentation with the complete list of components, was to be posted Monday evening to the Horizon Project 2.0’s website, www.ec-horizonproject.com.