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Friday, February 26, 2021

Highlight Series, featuring Heritage Hills High School’s Todd Wilkerson and S2C

by Hope Davis

Spencer County Online is beginning a new series, starting this week. All 11 schools will be featured on a rotating basis. Our hope is to share a positive event or person, honing in on the great things happening in education, especially because education is a powerful and hot topic in today’s society. Some of the schools do not always receive a lot of media coverage and this is a chance to shine a light and show off the great things going on within their walls. Spencer County Online would like to give you a virtual tour through the doors of Spencer County schools to see what your kids are up to and what they are learning. We really hope you enjoy this series, so with that, let the highlights begin!

This first week we are featuring Heritage Hills High School. I reached out to Principal Nick Alcorn for suggestions. It took him very little time to know exactly what he wanted us to cover. He quickly responded with Todd Wilkerson and what he is accomplishing with the Schools to Work initiative. 

Photo by: Hope Davis

First a little bit about Todd Wilkerson. He has been the Education and Career Planning Coordinator at Heritage Hills since 2011. He wears many hats in the North Spencer County School Cooperation as he has been Head Football Coach since 2012, NEA North Spencer Teacher Association President for about 10 years now, and he has also been co-teacher of Computer Science since 2019.

Todd is a Heritage Hills graduate, class of ‘88. He attended the University of Evansville from 1988 to 1991, studying Electrical Engineering; before graduating from UE he joined the Navy. While in the Navy, he was a Nuclear Power Electrician and served aboard the U.S.S John C. Stennis CVN-74 (Aircraft Carrier) from 1992 to 1998. After coming home from the Navy, Todd took on the role of Dale Park and Recreation Director from 1999 to 2007. During the same period he was Varsity asst. Coach and JV Head coach. 

Before taking the role as head coach, Wilkerson not only played throughout his school days, years later took on the role as middle school coach, minus the time he spent teaching for a year at Castle Junior High from 2003 to 2004. He was a freshman coach from 2007 to 2009 and then moved up to Varsity asst. coach from 2010 to 2011 until he moved up to Head Coach in 2012. 

Todd moved to Heritage Hills in 2004 to continue teaching math until 2011 when he then took on the current role he has now in career and education planning.

As Education and Career Planning Coordinator, Wilkerson works with lots of students. He helps them review their school load and listens to their aspirations and goals for the future, helping them plan next steps after high school. He knows college isn’t the goal for everyone, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful, or they don’t have other options. This is where his passion for helping students become successful in whatever they do comes in, and where the heart of this program begins.

It actually begins with a group of educators seeing more than just the student. They see a hard working able young human being with so many options who needs help getting connections to the outside world, and helping them get their foot in the right door, this is where S2C comes in.

S2C stands for School to Career. North Spencer School Corporation started the S2C program in the spring of 2017, funded by a Lilly Endowment Planning Grant. In the fall of 2017, North Spencer was awarded a Lilly Endowment Counseling Initiative Implementation Grant for $189,565. These funds were earmarked to hire a licensed counselor at HHHS. “The additional counselor allowed time for me [Education and Career Planning Coordinator] to collaborate with regional companies,” Wilkerson explains. These companies and community organizations committed $35,000 per year to help fund the additional counselor through 2025.

The companies include Spencer Industries, Inc., Thermwood, National Office Furniture, Kimball, Best Home Furnishings, OFS, Waupaca Foundry, Inc., Mulzer Crushed Stone, Superior Ag, Jasper Engines and Transmissions, Lincolnland Economic Development Corporation, Spencer County Community Foundation and the Spencer County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Products of the collaboration include:

Internships for HHHS students – both high school and college students

Site tours for 8th grade students – exposure to career opportunities

Career Exploration Tours for 11th and 12th grade students which led to HHHS graduates starting careers at regional companies. (Providing opportunities for students and keeping talent local) During the 2018-2019 school-year 83 unique students participated in 202 industry tours. This is up from 38 students in 2017-2018.

Academic/Professional/Material support for teachers in Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses. For example, National Office Furniture teaches a 12 week Journey to Success program to Advanced Manufacturing students.

Companies participate in College and Career Fairs and evening S2C events.

On March 10th, there will be a Heritage Hills High School Career and Technical Education Open House from 6-8 p.m. in the CTE Building and the Anatomy and Physiology Science room. Most community partners will be in attendance that evening.

Goals of the S2C program:

• Expose students to many career opportunities so they can make confident and informed decisions about college and career plans upon graduation from high school.

• Ensure students are familiar with regional career opportunities so they have the opportunity to stay local.

• Collaborate with regional companies. All parties benefit when there is open collaboration and sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Outcomes of the S2C program:

According to Wilkerson, “We have students who intern with local companies and attend four year colleges, two year college/tech schools, or go straight into the workforce upon graduating high school.”

He added, “S2C Signing Day – we celebrate students who have connected with a local company [ceremony is in May]. Students and their families along with the partner company participate in a ceremony to celebrate the partnership.”

Increased participation in College and Career Fairs and employability skills training for students.

This program is more of an education path rather than a program to be enrolled in. Those who identify with this program are those who have decided to take that extra step and the responsibilities that come with it to secure a bright future. 

According to Wilkerson, “There are some who don’t even know they are in this program. Anyone who takes a class in the ag building, a class that is teaching a trade, or something that can help you in the career world, is a S2C class. The point of this program is to let students know college is not their only option, and this program isn’t only for those who have chosen their career path, some have chosen to go to college but this program has helped them secure internships and can help secure possible jobs to bring back students who wish to continue working in the county they grew up.” 

Author’s note: “I really liked the idea of Heritage Hills High School wanting to highlight this topic. It’s educators like Mr. Wilkerson who are willing to put in the effort, principals like Mr. Alcorn who are willing to put their faith in their educators, companies like Spencer Industries, Inc., Thermwood, National Office, etc. who are willing to give students a chance to learn skills that could set them apart from competitors, along with so many other pieces to the puzzle. It’s not high school + college = success. That may have been the old formula, but times are changing, and that equation isn’t a one size fits all. For some it’s the sure way to a great career, but for others it’s something completely different. We all know from experience that life isn’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean that transitioning from high school to the real world always has to be so hard.” 

Thank you Heritage Hills for widening the spectrum to success. The new formula should be passion + effort= endless opportunities, for those who are trying to make a life for themselves.

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