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Our Towns

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Duplicate and distribute these activities. Students may work independently or cooperatively.

Your Town
How has the economic character of your community changed over the years? Take a look at your community. What are some visible indicators of its economic health? List these. Then do some behind-the-scenes research to get a clearer picture of your town’s overall health. For some tips on how to assess your community and factors to look for, check out Livelyhood’s “Economic Development” resources (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/classroom/resources.html).

• See if your town has an official Web site where you can find statistics and information about economic activity.

• Talk to sources such as minority business associations, labor unions, or social service organizations to gain other perspectives on your town’s economy.
Livelyhood has assembled Tips on Locating Minority Business Associations, Labor Unions, and Social Service Organizations in Your Area. [You might want to get an idea or your town's workplace history. To do this, check out Livelyhood's "Tips to Finding Information on Workplaces in Your Area" (http://pbs.org/livelyhood/classroom/shift/careers.html) from the "Shift Change" site!]

• Conduct surveys in the community asking people what they think about the town’s recent economic history and current and future economic health. Encourage them to share personal stories, anecdotes, and insights into the way the town has been shaped.

Now create a visual representation of the economic history of the area where you live. This could take the form of a collage, a scrapbook, a display, or a time line. You might also include visual predictions about its economic future. If possible, display your finished product in a public space.

You might want to think about how your town stacks up against United States trends by looking at Livelyhood’s online trend report: (http://pbs.org/livelyhood/ourtowns/trends.html), or if you are feeling inspired, check out the many groups advocating for economic or civic health in the “Our Towns” resource section (http://pbs.org/livelyhood/ourtowns/resources.html).

Forming Alliances
In Segment 3, you saw some ways in which businesses worked with school administrators to make dramatic improvements to Seattle’s public school system. Former Superintendent John Stanford stated that community involvement is essential to increasing performance, and that “without community, any school system is lost.” Do some research to determine how such partnerships and community involvement work—or might work—in your area. Here are some ways to begin:

• Read an article about Seattle’s Alliance for Education (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/ourtowns/business.html) or an interview with John Stanford (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/ourtowns/iview.html) to get background knowledge of partnership programs.

• Find out whether an apprenticeship, mentorship, or corporate volunteerism program currently exists in your school district or any others nearby. If there isn’t one in your district, brainstorm with other students about what kind of program could be established. Be sure to check out Livelyhood’s comprehensive list of organizations that match mentees to mentors (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/chipping/mentor/linkset.htm) or list of union links where you can find out more about apprenticeship programs (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/chipping/building/linkset.htm).

• Talk to a school official. Ask what kinds of benefits he or she might anticipate from a partnership with a local business. Also ask how one could be established. Ask if he or she would have any concerns, or what kind of investigation would be necessary before partnering schools with business.

There are some groups who advocate against business involvement in schools, like the Center for Commercial Free Public Education (http://www.commercialfree.org), and you may want to find out about that, too.

• Talk to the head of a local company. See what skills and knowledge that firm might have to offer high school students, and what results they would want to have come out of a school partnership.

Write up a plan based on the information you have collected, and offer your own suggestions for a mutually beneficial business/school partnership.

Changing Times
In Segment 9, you saw how towns such as Alliance, Nebraska have tried to keep their economies from stagnating by attracting or creating new industry and by luring tourists with unusual attractions. The economic developers even maintain an advertising Web page stating reasons businesses should move to Alliance and surrounding areas! (http://www.bbc.net/bbdc/home.htm).

Begin an examination of how your community might fight stagnation. Work with a small group to do one of the following:

• Play the role of a local economic development committee trying to attract business. To find out exactly what an economic developer does, check out Livelyhood’s “Economic Development” sites in the Resources section (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/classroom/resources.html).

First, decide what kinds of businesses you want to try to attract. Then make a list of reasons why a business should choose your area. Think about what kinds of businesses would bring new life, diversity, or innovation into your community.

• Play the roles of executives of a corporation looking to find a good place to locate a major part of your operation. Make a list of things you will look for in a new location. (You’ll have to decide what kind of business you have in order to do this.) Again for both these steps, Livelyhood’s “Economic Development” sites (http://www.pbs.org/livelyhood/classroom/resources.html) can help by showing what other communities are doing to attract business, and on what businesses base moving decisions.

Then meet with a group playing the opposite role. See whether you can hammer out a deal.

Tips on Locating Minority Business Associations, Labor Unions, and Social Service Organizations in Your Area:

Minority Businesses
Is there an Urban League, NAACP chapter, or a minority-run business club in your town? If you don’t know, check out http://www.nul.org/ or http://www.naacp.org/ or do a search online. A good resource for finding out about minority owned business is the U.S Department of Commerce “Phoenix Database” which lists all minority-owned enterprises doing business in the U.S.: http://www.mbda.gov.

Labor Organizations
Do you know anyone who is a member of a labor union? City, county, state and federal workers tend to have union contracts, as do workers in major grocery store chains, postal workers, UPS drivers and teachers – to name just a few. Contact your Central Labor Council, available in the phone book in most counties and cities, for a picture of your area’s labor pool. A way to locate labor unions online is through the AFL/CIO Web site (http://www.aflcio.org/home.htm) or uniononline.com (http://www.uniononline.com), which allows you to look up every kind of union from A-Z and locate local chapters.

Social Services Organizations
Are you aware of any social service organizations in your area that provide people with support, or civic groups that meet regularly? Social service organizations are often directed by cities or counties, and can be found through your town research, online through a search with a search engine like Yahoo!, or in the good old phone book which lists main providers of social services by service and/or division. You can also check out the business pages of your local newspaper, especially calendar listings, to get an idea of different groups that are active in your community, or go the local library and ask a librarian for help locating social service organizations. Cities and counties sometimes publish “free for the asking” directories of local services and non-profits!