‘Hands across the Kings River’

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Boozman says Connect 4 a model for the future

The Carroll County Connect 4 (C4) industrial training facility in Berryville for junior and senior high school students from Berryville, Green Forest and Eureka Springs is an innovative public-private partnership to train students for vital and good paying jobs in industrial maintenance. Sen. John Boozman [R-AR] said while touring the facility Oct. 4 that the program is focused on training students not only to get jobs, but jobs that pay well.

“Congratulations on a very successful public-private partnership,” Boozman said. “It is very innovative to see three high schools working together for the future. It is important to tailor the curriculum around what is needed in the workforce.”

C4 instructor James Knight said this is the second year for C4, and four students were placed into jobs the first year. Enrollment this year is 37. Located in the old armory building, much of the equipment and cost of renovating the building for training students has been donated by local industries such as Tyson, Black Hills Energy, Wilson Combat, HS-Innovations, Multi-Craft Contractors, Baldor, Barrows Excavation, and Kirk’s Excavation, FESTO and SMC.

Boozman asked Knight about the cost of some of the training equipment. Knight said one piece of equipment that was donated would cost about $35,000. Knight said the technical training equipment and materials needed for the training are very expensive, and the program would not have gotten off the ground without generous support from local industries.

Knight said many people learn better from hands-on training instead of reading from a book. In C4 facility, students learn how to be a “jack of all trades,” learning skills such as welding, pneumatics, hydraulics, basic electrical, machining, and equipment repair.

“Industrial maintenance workers need to have a lot of skills,” Knight said. “It’s a broad, open field and it is not just for men. We have three women in our program this year. This training can help provide what we are all after, happiness and making a good living. There are a lot of businesses around here who have needs for people who are skilled in maintenance. Industry needs people who can troubleshoot. And industry says it is hard to find good help.”

Knight also challenged stereotypes that these types of jobs in local industries are “just for rednecks.”

Students spend two days in the classroom and three days in the shop each week during the school year. Knight said they are currently working to provide students with internships at area industries.

The partnership with the three school districts in the county is unusual.

“The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) doesn’t quite know what to do with us,” Knight said.

Boozman responded that C4 should be considered a model for the future in Arkansas. He said the ADE needs to figure out how to support efforts such as the three high schools working together to provide innovative workforce training that no high school alone could afford.

Eureka Springs School Board Vice President Al Larson referred to the program as “Hands across the Kings River.”

Eureka Springs School Supt. Bryan Pruitt said the program is innovative and provides kids a unique opportunity to be successful.

“It is phenomenal what has transpired here,” Steve Johnson, executive director of the Berryville Chamber of Commerce, said.

Knight said it is important for people to know C4 is for all junior and senior high school students in Carroll County. And if there is any industry he hasn’t contacted yet that wants to get involved, call (870) 438-7024 send an email to jknight@bobcat.k12.ar.us.

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