ECCEL celebrates achievement

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The ECCEL Academy held a special reception Tuesday, March 19, at Paris High School to thank supporters and outline progress so far this academic year.

The acronym stands for Edgar Clark Career Exploration & Leadership Academy and it is a two-fold program. Available to juniors and seniors from any high school in Edgar and Clark counties, participants are introduced to the principles of leadership and dedication by visiting a number of area businesses and industries. In turn, the students learn about career opportunities that exist in the two counties as an effort to keep young people in the community, rather than assuming they must move to find a good job.

Kevin Ross, Marshall School District Superintendent, was one of the speakers at the program.

“Schools need partnerships with business and higher education,” said Ross, adding education has to be for everybody, including the average and below students, not just those bound for college. “We have to keep our work force here.”

Ross said it is understandable some students will go away to college or other form of post-secondary training, but the goal of ECCEL is to give them a look at local opportunities before they leave as a way of enticing them back to start and build careers in the two counties.

“I know it is a sacrifice for business people to take the time to talk with the students, but it is important that you do,” Ross said.

The ECCEL Academy class consists of students from Casey-Westfield, Chrisman, Kansas, Marshall, Martinsville and Paris high schools and attendance is in addition to their regular course load. Paris student Kyra Marietta and Casey-Westfield student Alex Rodriquez discussed how they have benefitted from the program.

“It has changed me,” said Marietta. “I have learned you can be a leader wherever you are.”

Other positives are the numerous field trips to area businesses opened her eyes to opportunities she never knew existed at the local level. It also helped her move from a fast food job to one with Terry Elston’s State Farm Insurance Agency.

“It’s started me on a career path,” said Marietta. “I’ve learned a lot of responsibility through the class.”

Rodriguez credits ECCEL with helping him build self-confidence.

“Ninety-nine percent of seniors have no idea of the job opportunities in the area. I’ve taken the responsibility to spread this knowledge,” said Rodriguez.

He stressed talking with business people and other community leaders was enlightening, adding that all members of the class now have a much better understanding of what is required to become successful.

The class also altered what he wants to do after graduation and college.

“Through this experience I fell in love with business,” said Rodriguez. “It’s really changed my life.”

Paris student Christiana Marlowe served as master of ceremonies for the event and added her thoughts about ECCEL’s first year.

“The class has had its ups and downs, but the idea of what this class is shooting toward is perfect,” said Marlowe.

A special guest at the program was Congressman John Shimkus (R-15th District). He offered some insight garnered during a career in the Army and experience serving in Congress.

“Leadership is getting people to do what you want – not by force – but by inspiring them,” said Shimkus, adding leaders who depend on force soon find themselves without followers. “Leadership is done by example. If you want people to work a 10-hour shift, you have to do the same. The people around you have to know you are willing to do the same difficult work.”

He congratulated the students on their determination, drive and vision for the future, while cautioning that making a large salary is not a reliable definition of success.

“It doesn’t matter what you seek. Success is doing what you enjoy,” Shimkus said. “There are people making a lot of money who hate what they do, and that is not success.”

The Congressman said with an improving economy more jobs are becoming available and ECCEL is a good approach but learning about local employment opportunity, especially for the high-achieving students, is not just the responsibility of the schools.

“People with the jobs are not providing access to these bright, young minds that will look elsewhere for opportunity,” he said.