BENNINGTON -- A new initiative launched within the Bennington community is encouraging collaboration between area businesses and local schools, all in the name of problem solving.

The Southshire Challenge was modeled after a similar event generated by a business in New Hampshire, according to Jeannie Jenkins, the coordinator of academic services at Bennington's Community College of Vermont campus and a member of the Bennington Economic Development Partners committee.

Jenkins said the inaugural challenge is the direct result of collaboration between the Workforce in Education Partnership -- a unit of the BEDP -- the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, and the Bennington County Industrial Corporation.

According to Jenkins, the initiative asks local businesses, big and small, and governmental organizations to create a challenge which can be addressed by local students K-12, who work to formulate a solution to the so-called "problem" over the course of about three months.

Throughout the process, a representative from each company or organization will work closely with the students as they finalize their solution.

"It's a really neat thing for this community to be doing," Jenkins said. "It's another way kids can look at practical applications for the academics that they're learning in school and it gives them an opportunity to work with local professionals and learn more about the businesses in the area."

Schools were notified of the challenge in late November and so far, four groups of students have signed up to participate in one of the six challenges hosted by area businesses. These businesses include Abacus Automation -- a local manufacturer that designs and builds one-of-a-kind machines for similar facilities internationally, including games, consumer products and medical products -- Global Z International, a local database technology company, K&E Plastics, a contract manufacturer of precision machine parts, Oldcastle Theatre Company, The Town of Bennington, and Southwestern Vermont Health Care.

Jenkins explained that each of the six challenges are vastly different.

In the case of Abacus Automation, the manufacturer is challenging older students to prepare a list of tasks to market and sell one of their products, the Original Spin snowboard binding accessory.

Global Z International is asking students to create a newsletter that will be distributed to company clients, both current and prospective, while Oldcastle Theatre has asked students to write their own play.

According to Jenkins, a business class at Mount Anthony Union High School has signed up to take on Global Z's challenge, and older students of the Southshire Community School in North Bennington have started work on creating their own play for Oldcastle.

A fourth-grade class from Shaftsbury Elementary will work to solve the Town of Bennington's challenge -- the Tinker, Hacker Space Challenge -- exploring ways to use spaces outside of a traditional classroom as active learning environments, and finally, Ken Turn, a health teacher at Mount Anthony Union Middle School has registered his class to complete the SVHC challenge, with help from students in a film class at the Career Development Center. Together, the two classes will make a video addressing a certain aspect of youth nutrition.

According to Jenkins, the challenges are expected to be completed in the middle of March, a date which will coincide with Bennington's second annual Career Week.

During this time, Jenkins said students will present their solutions to the community, and hopefully, the Bennington Select Board.

There are still opportunities for students interested in participating in any of the six challenges to sign up, according to Jenkins, who explained that two of the businesses -- K&E Plastics and Abacus Automation -- have "no takers."

However, Jenkins said that sign ups should be completed by the middle of January.

"Ideally, we'd like two groups working on each of the challenges," she said. "It doesn't have to be certain grades or certain classes, either, it can be anyone interested in taking part in this."

Those interested in participating in the Southshire Challenge may contact Bob Marine at the SVSU central offices by e-mailing rmarine@svsu.org or by calling 802-753-5813.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.