A collaborative statewide effort between businesses, educators and community service organizations is gearing up to launch a new initiative to prepare students for their dream careers.

A collaborative statewide effort between businesses, educators and community service organizations is gearing up to launch a new initiative to prepare students for their dream careers.

The Success Plans and Roads to Careers (SPaRC) initiative is working to expand on the existing Department of Education Student Success Plans platform by recruiting local and statewide businesses to participate − offering internships, summer jobs and e-mentoring.

Delmarva Power President Gary Stockbridge presented the new initiative to local businesses, chambers and educators Friday morning at First State Manufacturing, hoping to recruit more community partnerships.

The ultimate goal of the initiative is to improve graduation rates and career readiness, said Stockbridge, who also serves several other businesses heading the SPaRC.

“It gives them that kind of path to success,” he said. “There’s a passion for people to get involved and help our schools. This can only be successful if it’s big companies to small companies, from north to south.”

The SPaRC initiative is also a remodel of what Junior Achievement of Delaware has been providing for students in terms of career and college readiness, aiming to begin working with fourth- and fifth-grade students to seniors in high school, leading to direct employment, entrepreneurial start-ups or continued education.

The initiative will take existing technology that allows students to delve into their dream jobs and partner with Delaware businesses within those fields and their employees to provide training, mentoring and even job opportunities as students prepare to enter the workforce, Stockbridge said.

First State Manufacturing Owner Sher Valenzuela said that as businesses are the backbone of communities, it’s vital for them to join forces with educational initiatives like SPaRC.

“The idea to join businesses to education in a measurable way, linking mentors to students with a map to their chosen career path is so overdue,” Valenzuela said. “And it doesn’t hurt that as a by-product we’ll also be creating the talent pipeline Delaware businesses depend on. It’s a win-win, any way you look at it.”

The SPaRC steering committee currently consists of members from The Business Rountable, The Rodel Foundation, Junior Achievement of Delaware, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, Delaware Workforce Investment Board, Delaware Department of Labor, Delaware Department of Education, Delaware Economic Development Office and The United Way of Delaware.

So far, 10 pioneer companies have agreed to help spearhead the SPaRC initiative. The first companies to participate in the SPaRC initiative are Delmarva Power, Chase, AstraZeneca, First State Manufacturing, DuPont, Dow, Computer Aid, Inc., The Sallie Mae Fund, PSEG Nuclear LLC and Bank of America.

“There’s an unprecedented collaboration of organizations that are behind this,” said Junior Achievement of Delaware Leadership President Rob Eppes. “There’s a huge cohort of students…that need connections to businesses.”

The intention is also for the program to be self-sufficient in three years, with the participating businesses taking over the funding, estimated at $170,000 per year, rather than the steering committee organizations funding the program.

As the SPaRC initiative moves forward, organizers are hoping to recruit five to seven schools to pilot the program as well, said Robert Ford, Director of Corporate Engagement at Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee.

Those schools have not yet been identified, but Ford said the initiative will look for schools that have already participated in Student Success Plans and are familiar with software used in programs like Career Cruising.

“Those school districts that have really been using that [software] more than others, they’re a really great place to start because they’re familiar with parts of the software,” Ford said.

Ford said another challenge of choosing pilots schools is identifying where students’ interests lie, and if those careers interests coincide with participating businesses.

“We’re trying to avoid getting kids excited and having the opportunities, but in the wrong physical location or areas they’re not interested in,” For said. “In helping to identify the schools, one of the things we’ll be using to help identify them is the businesses that are saying yes [to participate in the initiative].”

Mark McDaniel, Milford School District Supervisor of Career & Technical Education, agrees that having specific careers for interested students is key in boosting their understanding of what to expect when they enter the workforce.

“We need more opportunities for the kids to see exactly what a job is,” McDaniel said. “I think [this initiative] is great. We’re always looking for more opportunities for the kids outside the classroom.”

The steering committee members will be meeting later this month to discuss the current state of business engagement, establishing a charter to describe what SPaRC is facing and how it will move forward, identifying members of the steering committee, leadership committee and implementation teams, goals moving forward and methods for measuring success and a timeline for the initiative’s goals and accomplishments.

“All of this is geared toward the kick-off of the next school year,” Stockbridge explained. “It’s just a growing momentum across the state. It’s no longer about just the schools telling them to do it, it’s working with the community. We have to succeed together.”

Businesses, organizations and educators looking for more information can contact Robert Ford at (302) 349-2303 or rford@dbrec.org.