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Business community can guide kids to careers

After my most recent trip to the optometrist, accompanied by my 8-year-old daughter, Emma, she excitedly proclaimed, “Mommy, I want to be an eye doctor when I grow up!”

Surprised and more than a little curious — since like most fourth-graders, she’s not fond of seeing any kind of doctor — I asked her, “Why an eye doctor?”

“Because I want to have a good job, and a doctor is a good job, but eye doctors don’t have to deal with yucky stuff like blood!” she replied.

So goes the logic of a fourth-grader.

The conversation did remind me that even children in early elementary school are forming lasting impressions of the world around them, which will guide their decision-making and the future course of their lives.

That’s what makes the wonderful private-public partnerships with our schools that have blossomed over the past five years so impactful and so important.

From Team Tech and Team Health to Ag in the Classroom, businesses all over our island are devoting their energies to getting into our schools and helping to create visions of great careers — available right here on Kaua‘i — in the minds of our kids.

Whether it’s third-graders planting a garden, sixth-graders entering a robotics competition, or 11th-graders building a renewable energy car, there are unprecedented learning opportunities happening all over our island as we speak. And our business community is right beside them every step of the way.

It has been my privilege to work with the private sector on many of these programs, and to sit on the Education Committee of the Kaua‘i Economic Development Board, where much of this is made possible. Through the Aloha Ike grant program, created and administered by the board, teachers can access funding support to get their projects off the ground. The program requires the teacher to engage a private sector partner, and the results have been nothing less than magic.

This month we will once again welcome the General Atomics team from southern California for the fifth annual Kaua‘i In STEP (Science Technology Education Partnership) program. Scientists Rick Lee and Alex Nagy will return and host more than 2,000 fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders from all schools on Kaua‘i for a high-energy and truly enjoyable introduction to concepts of math, science and engineering from Sept. 17 to 19.

This program has been so rewarding over the years. And it comes at virtually no cost to Kaua‘i. General Atomics and other generous sponsors host the entire trip as a gift to the Department of Education and the children of Kaua‘i. If it’s hard to envision the value of an experience like this for our kids, consider this letter written by fourth-grade student at Elsie Wilcox Elementary School after experiencing the program in 2004:

“I think I may become a scientist because it must be fun to study things … right? I want to be someone who might find a cure for a new sickness.”

Even in tough economic times we see more enthusiasm than ever from our business community in supporting programs like Kaua‘i In STEP. I want to send a big mahalo to the folks at Envisioneering and all the business and community supporters who will make this year’s STEP program just as memorable and successful as in years past.

Whether I’m raising a future eye doctor, a scientist, a farmer or an entrepreneur, I feel fortunate that my kids — with the guidance of their teachers and the support of our business community — have the chance to experience the many career opportunities open to them at an age when it can truly make an impact.

• Beth Tokioka is director of Kaua‘i County’s Office of Economic Development. She can be reached at btokioka@kauai.gov

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