A local group dedicated to forming relationships between Lodi schools and the community has a new leader on board.
Art Hand Jr. has joined Pat Patrick, president of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, as co-chair of Partners in Education. PIE connects the skills and unique traits of local businesses and organizations with classrooms in need.
Hand is the assistant superintendent of facilities and planning for Lodi Unified School District. He is also full of ideas to bring richer experiences to schools.
The group has existed in some form for about a year, but they have yet to define a mission statement.
"Right now we're working on building a more stable membership, so we know who we can count on on a regular basis," said Hand.
It's not all about donations. PIE wants businesses to step up with their time and their ideas about how they can make Lodi schools better.
Those opportunities might include volunteering to speak to a class about a business or group. Or individuals could step up as mentors or tutors. There's even room for groups to "adopt" schools or team up to work on improvement projects or special events.
"For the kids, it's about knowing the community outside their school cares about what happens inside it," said Hand.
Hand wants to create chances for students to learn what it's like to get along in a working environment. Another plan is to open up school computer labs after hours for neighborhood families to come in and have access to the Internet.
"But these things cost money. That's where businesses come in. I would have no problem walking into a computer lab and seeing a big banner with a sponsor's name on it," said Hand.
PIE's ultimate goal is to foster ongoing relationships between schools and businesses.
A range of groups around Lodi is already working with the organization.
The Lodi Arts Commission has volunteered their expertise to bring art projects to afterschool programs. Nurses from Lodi Memorial Hospital donate hand sanitizer to schools and share what skills it takes to be a nurse. Farmers and Merchants Bank have brought students into their office to talk about the skills it takes to work there.
Other businesses have chosen to adopt a school as their pet project to help as needed.
Delta Blood Bank adopted Washington School and are working on their first project: a collaborative school garden.
"We want to promote awareness of how to serve the community. Some wonderful people have stepped up to the plate. We are just happy to be a part of it," said Michelle Mills, director of education with Delta Blood Bank.
The Lodi-Tokay Rotary Club has adopted both Lawrence Elementary School and Lincoln Technical Academy. Their involvement ranges from donations of books to providing rewards for students who do well on annual testing. At Lincoln Tech, several club members serve on an advisory board to let the vocational school know what the business community is looking for in future employees.
"We're hopeful that it's making a difference," said Ron Williamson, the club's coordinator for both schools.
If adopting a whole school is too big, PIE is flexible enough for a smaller business to adopt a classroom or a grade level.
Local businesses rely on today's students to work for them in the future, said Patrick. It's important to him that businesses foster those ties early on. Those connections can happen when professionals are willing to step out of the office and into the classroom to explain how the work students are doing now will benefit them in the future.
"There is a great need in Lodi for kids to make a positive connection to their future, instead of a negative one," said Patrick. "We need kids to be successful for our future, and this can be a way."