Five Pittsburgh-area executives exchanged the office for the classroom as they became students for a day on a recent visit to Frazier High School.

Corporate leaders from some of the region’s most recognizable companies and organizations joined Frazier students for a full day of instruction as part of the CEO in the Classroom shadowing experience to gather insight about what and how students are learning.

“It’s a way for them to see the great work that’s underway in schools today and some of the challenges that schools face,” said Principal Jason Pappas. “I think they’ll take this opportunity to look at the possibility of increased funding for schools and increased opportunities for students.”

An initiative of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in partnership with the Grable Foundation, CEO in the Classroom paired nearly 30 CEOs and business leaders from southwestern Pennsylvania with students in seven schools in the Pittsburgh region on March 12 to see firsthand how the region’s future workforce is learning.

Becoming students for a day, five corporate leaders each shadowed a student at Frazier, participating alongside the teens in classes such as AP Calculus, aerospace engineering, English, family consumer science and phys. ed.

Adult students at Frazier included Mary Kay Babyak, executive director of the Consortium for Public Education; Jennifer Beer, vice president of government relations at the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development; Steve Guy, president and CEO of Oxford Development Co.; Stacey Olson, president of Chevron Appalachia; and Nelson White, manager of field engineering at Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania and Columbia Gas of Maryland.

Student ambassadors for the school were senior Casey Murt, juniors Ryan Balentine and Hattie Lindey, sophomore Aiden Shetterly and freshman Aaron Panepinto.

At the end of the school day, the executives and ambassadors convened to discuss their experiences.

“In the classes I was in today, it was a very interactive environment. There was a lot more interaction between student and teacher, which is a good thing,” said Guy, comparing his experience at Frazier to the pencil-and-paper, direct instruction of his school days.

“I loved how technology was incorporated. It made learning more fun.”

Beer said she was surprised by unstructured, group responses from students when giving answers to questions, rather than raising their hands and being called upon.

“What the executives have to know about this group coming into the workforce is that it’s a little bit more communicative. So maybe as far as (the students) being prepared coming into the workforce, it’s knowing there might be that difference in communication.”

Olsen said business leaders in the region still have work to do to ensure that students in rural districts like Frazier are aware of the career possibilities that exist in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“You’re not next door to Corporate America, so you’re kids are not being exposed to some of the opportunities that exist. It’s just something to think about: are we really preparing the pipeline that large and small companies are going to need?” she said.

CEO in the Classroom is an outgrowth of a workforce study by the Allegheny Conference released in 2016 that indicates a projected shortage of workers with the most in-demand hard and soft skills that will enable businesses to be competitive in the market.

Participating executives will meet in April to collectively consider how the regional business community might collaborate with educators for maximum impact around workforce preparation.

Other participating schools included Pittsburgh's Brashear High School and City Charter High, Butler Senior High School, Duquesne Elementary Center, Elizabeth Forward Middle School and Quaker Valley Middle School, where in December 2018 a group of business and education professionals piloted the program.

Pappas said Chevron reached out to Frazier about participating in the event due to the school offering several Project Lead the Way engineering courses. He called the event a great opportunity to showcase the instruction that takes place at Frazier.

“I hope the CEOs really have a better understanding of how public education works and leave as better advocates of public education after seeing the challenges that students face every day,” Pappas said.

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