Could schools grow a local economy?

Nearly every week I see a news story about a  school somewhere in New York State being closed. Usually the reason is a combination of declining enrollment and the high cost of state-mandated administrative supervision.

A one-of-a-kind program at Greenville High School in the Catskills south of Albany suggests an option that is worth exploring in other districts.

Two years ago, the high school created what is, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

Greenville allowed a small start-up company, C2 Biotechnologies, to use space in one of the high school’s agriculture classrooms. In exchange, the company provides after school work experiences and summer internships to Greenville students.

The school hopes to expand the educational partnership with the biotech company to include students in fields other than science in the once-a-week after school program.

C2 Biotechnologies is presently dependent on federal funding to finance the paid internships for students in 2012. But the school spent only $13,000 to get the company on board, so it hasn’t a lot to lose if the company cannot hang on.

On the positive side, the school’s students are getting valuable training now. If the company succeeds, it will bring more good jobs to the area, which increases the tax base for the school.

The business incubator model in Greenville appears to be one that almost any district of any size with declining and enrollment could explore if it had the vision. The businesses need not be in high tech fields or manufacturing. In a rural area, roofers and veterinarians, day care services and graphic artists might be the best candidates for a business incubator.

Naturally, the model wouldn’t work in every situation. A district’s available space might be in the wrong places. There might be no interest from business people who would work well with students. And the cost of staffing a small-enrollment school with certified administrators might still be too expensive regardless of benefits of business partners.

Still, when you consider the social costs to a community of losing a school, the idea is certainly worth a look.

Photo credit:  Biotechnology uploaded by SW Yang shows tissue culture of orchids in Taiwan

[replaced degraded link 2017-01-26]

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Filed under Rural schools, School-community relations

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