Jefferson County Public School students and teachers are returning right now for a new school year with freshly sharpened pencils and fresh new expectations and hopes. So, when Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Information Technology team came to Seneca High School on August 1, delivering 30 new Chromebox computers and touchscreen monitors for the students, Seneca’s technology manager said, “it was like Christmas came early.”

The donation marked the beginning of a new partnership between locally-based, KFC’s IT department and Seneca High School through the career Academies of Louisville, which matches local businesses with high schools as part of an extended learning opportunity for students.

Seneca High School Academy Coach Mary Louise Pozaric, said what the 30 Chromeboxes (a desktop version of a Chromebook) will mean for students is the creation of a new KFC Online Learning Lab, that will be used to facilitate transition readiness for students to be college or career ready, or both.

“Making sure the students are prepared for life after high school is a big focus at Seneca,” she said. The Academies of Louisville program offers freshman the opportunity to explore which pathway they will choose, and sophomores to seniors participate by choosing one of three career academies: Law and IT Academy, (where the KFC IT partnership falls), Agri-Science Academy, or Health and Education Academy. Steven Brock, KFC IT manager for the restaurant company’s help desk, said that as the school year progresses, additional functions within KFC will contribute in the partnership with Seneca as well.

Pozaric said there are already more than 40 sophomores and juniors signed up for the IT career academy. The chromeboxes donated by KFC are just the beginning, said Brock. “We’ve had four interns from Seneca over the past couple of years,” he said. “When the school approached us about this partnership, it made sense since we’ve already had talented interns from them, and KFC’s headquarters is only about three miles from the school geographically.”

Brock anticipates the new partnership will continue to provide interns to the help desk, which offers a unique way for students to have the chance for real-world work experience.

“The help desk is the perfect place to come into KFC as an intern because it’s open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., so it offers flexible nights or weekend scheduling for students, even into college when schedules change every semester,” said Brock.

The help desk also gives students a window into an important business operation of one of the largest employers in the region.

“With approximately 4,100 restaurants across the country, the help desk provides solutions when restaurants are having problems with their payment processing or system technology,” said Lori Eberenz, KFC’s Senior Manager, Public Affairs.

“It’s a critical role in the organization because if I’m a franchisee, and my payment system goes down, that’s a big problem,” she said. “These students get insight into a really critical piece of our business and the importance of being part of the team.”

Brock said he is excited that his team and other KFC volunteers will be working so closely, and creatively, with Seneca. “We will do campus tours, give presentations and do some project-based learning. We also hope to use Seneca alumni interns on a mentorship level and offer resume building workshops and mock interviews. They asked for businesses in the community to help them shape curriculum for the career academies. They want to ensure students are being taught what is most relevant for the workforce – current and future,” he said.

Seneca High School is already a step ahead in IT with its cyber engineering program, said Brock. In the program, students build robots and do hands-on hardware troubleshooting, software programming, and have to work collaboratively to get the robots up and going.

According to Brock, these are all translatable skills for many roles within KFC IT – working in a team environment, troubleshooting, getting their hands-on hardware components and learning software skills. The program is in its infancy, but Brock believes KFC IT’s partnership with Seneca will provide an opportunity to help make sure what’s being taught in the classrooms is valuable to employers like KFC. “Even on the non-technical side, we can help the students enhance their soft skills, like working with others in a team oriented environment, written and verbal communication, and conflict resolution..”

Those soft skills are “huge,” said Pozaric. “Interacting with the business partners who come into the classroom helps them learn how to talk to adults out in the real world – and understand expectations and work ethic,” she said.

As one of 11 schools in JCPS in Academies of Louisville, Seneca was an early adopter, becoming an official Academy of Louisville school in its first year, the 2017-2018 school year, but they had an academy style model even the year before. “We like to say we started doing academies ‘before they were cool,’” said Pozaric.

The Academy coach said, “we are all so excited to be working with KFC. Everyone who has come over from there has been so enthusiastic and easy to work with; they just have this generous spirit you can already see,” she said. “I think this is going to be an amazing partnership.”