In February 2016, Upward Academy launched its first program pilot at our Randall Road facility in Springdale, Ark. The first classes kicked off at 5 a.m., fueled by donuts, coffee, and the commitment of our team members and adult education partners.
In partnership with local community organizations, Upward Academy helps team members develop important life skills, offering free and accessible classes in English as a Second Language (ESL), High School Equivalency (HSE), U.S. citizenship, financial literacy, and digital literacy. To make it as easy as possible for team members to attend, classes are offered in our plants immediately before and after shifts. Virtual classes have been held during the pandemic.
Five years later, we celebrate the countless partners and students who transformed Upward Academy from just a good idea into a nationally scaled program. Because of their hard work and support, the program now serves thousands of team members in over 50 communities across the country.
Tyson Foods plants are predominantly located in rural areas with limited labor pools, which means we rely on developing and promoting talent internally. Many of our frontline team members are new immigrants to the U.S. and come from dozens of different countries: up to 50 different countries may be represented within a single plant.
Mohammad Mukhtar, community liaison and citizenship instructor at our Center, Texas, plant, describes the program participants and benefits using these words: independence, excelling, life goals, self-sufficiency, enthusiasm, attitude, and liberation.
“Upward Academy brought such a positive impact to my plant,” Mukhtar said. “The workplace is not just a place where your life is stuck, but you have opportunities for education and for a better life. We’re doing everything to make sure team members don’t miss out on this.”
As the program continued to grow, Tyson Foods searched for new ways to increase its value. While ESL, HSE and citizenship offerings remain the core of the program, team members expressed interest in learning financial and computer skills to help them develop personally and professionally.
Upward Academy responded by expanding course offerings to include digital and financial literacy. This year, 59 new classrooms will open across the country with a goal of reaching 100% of U.S. based team members by 2025. A complementary career development program, Upward Pathways, also just launched and provides frontline team members job skills training and workforce certifications in the plant at no cost.
“My fondest memories of the program were when I learned that parents were empowered to go to their children’s school conferences, the grocery store, the doctor and have conversations,” said Kathleen Dorn, one of our founding adult education partners in Fort Smith, Ark. “The tears in their eyes as they were telling me these things was eye opening. Best program ever.”
Team Member Spotlight: Adriana Pena
One Tyson Foods team member who has benefitted from the program is Training Specialist Adriana Pena. She is, first and foremost, a mom. With help from her own mother, she has raised four sons, ages 26, 25 and 20 – the youngest, twins. Having been a single mother for most of her boys’ lives, Adriana has taken advantage of the many resources available to help successfully transition her family to life in Northwest Arkansas.
Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Adriana has called Northwest Arkansas home for 24 years. Having spent time in Illinois and then California, Adriana moved her family to the area in 1996 to explore new job opportunities. Soon after arriving, she took a job with Tyson Foods, and has worked for the company ever since.
Adriana teaches new hires the ins and outs of their new jobs at the plant. She enjoys helping people and making things easier for them.
“A lot of people helped me,” Adriana said. “I cannot imagine not being helped.”
Over the years, Adriana has jumped at the opportunities to develop herself through adult education classes available through the Upward Academy program. She has enrolled in financial literacy and English classes and is looking forward to continuing her education through the program.
“I always believe in myself,” she said. “I practice, and I learn English. I always try to learn new things every day.”
Not to mention being a positive role model to her sons.
“I teach my boys to be good citizens, to be humble, to be nice and to help people. I tell them to be grateful. If you do something good, it will come back to you,” she said.