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Sharon, Pa., enhances local economy through lifelong learning opportunities.

"A dichotomy exists between our community and its educational opportunities." With that statement, in 1990, the city of Sharon, Pa., launched an effort to bring education and learning resources to bear on an acute local economic problem.

By the Fall of 1991, the Sharon Lifelong Learning Council was formed to focus on community education and ways to link community needs with resources. Sharon's Mayor Robert T. Price serves as a member of the Board of Directors.

Downturn in Local Economy Stimulates Action

The Shenango Valley, of which Sharon is a part, has undergone tremendous economic upheaval in the last fifteen years. For most of this century, the area had been supported by employment in local steel mill and other industrially-based companies. During the early 1980s major mills such as Westinghouse, General American Transportation Corporation, and National Castings, began permanently closing their doors. The net results was that in January 1983, the area had a 29.3% unemployment rate, the second highest in the country.

A shift from industrialization to other forms of economic development began to occur.

Community Responds To Economic Dilemma

Recognizing education as the economic and social base of its future, the Sharon Lifelong Learning Council developed a multiple-year action plan to create alliances among the local school systems, institutions of higher education, social service services, and the private sector. However, in November, 1992, 2700 individuals were without work as the result of the area's largest employer, Sharon Steel, filing for bankruptcy. The impact of the closing was felt throughout the community and left its mark in many ways. Unemployment rates soared, and median household incomes fell below the poverty line.

According to Mayor Price, "the Lifelong Learning Council has been a group in the City of Sharon who has picked up the gauntlet and has assisted the city in so many ways particularly working with our unemployed citizens on such issues as literacy and writing skills."

"We are truly blessed to have the Council in our City." main goal and objective for the Sharon Lifelong Learning Council's is to help people to think beyond schools as a place where learning can occur. The Council promotes the idea that schooling is not a building an individual spends years in, a place that is an end in itself; schooling is something that is a continuing part of an individual's life.

Current Work

Identifying local problems and issues has been an important aspect of the Council's work. Some of the activities and programs being conducted through the Council are highlighted below:

* Students who graduate from the Experimental Learning (or service-learning) program gain experiences that connect them to the democratic process. Experimental Learning is a powerful method by which young people may accrue educational experiences through active participation in literally working to resolve community issues. Students progress through the grade levels across a three-year period and participate in various learning projects with the outcome being a clearly and easily documented one--an increase in civic participation in the high school years.

* The Sharon Lifelong Learning Council and Sharon City Schools partner to offer several different continuing education classes for adults in the community. Introductory classes in both IBM/compatible and MacIntoch computers are offered. A beginning Spanish class is offered to the adult Sharon residents.

* Family Math and Science Programs provide opportunities for families to enjoy learning experiences through a non-threatening, hands-on approach to various science and math activities. These community classes help families discover what broadened possibilities learning opportunities can bring.

Future Agenda

The Council views life-long learning as a long-term effort to link educational resources to economic problems. This view is based on the idea that a community's real economy is its "resourceful people."

The Sharon Lifelong Learning Council's future agenda includes:

* To examine ways in which variation in the skills people posses can spur the economy

* To develop partnerships with business, industry and schools to enhance the learning climate

* To determine the vital learning functions families need in order to look and train for employment

* To view retirees as a vital and valuable resource; currently retirees are underutilized

* To develop and implement programs that encourage uses of literacy m all its diversity and literacy as a means of stimulating education

* To show Sharon citizens that they have a right and a responsibility to be involved in determining community needs, identifying community resources, and resources those needs and resources to improve their community
COPYRIGHT 1995 National League of Cities
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Title Annotation:Futures Forum
Author:Cheek, Dorothy
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 3, 1995
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