Work-Based Learning Program at Kent Island High School

Christine Grupenhoff

Is your business floundering with too much work to do? Could you use an extra pair of capable hands? Are you willing to help train a young person to become an outstanding employee? Do you think building character in our youth is of vital importance? Then maybe you might want to contact James Evans at Kent Island High School who coordinates the Work-Based Learning Program (WBL).

The sole purpose of the program is to provide students with the opportunity to gain practical experience in career training of their particular interest. The program gives students the chance to get into the workplace where they learn the proper skills needed to be successful in the world of work.

James Evans came to KIHS during the 2006-07 school year where he currently remains as coordinator. Helping youth obtain skills while building character seems to fit Evans. As Former Chief Financial Officer & Human Resource Director for a Government Consulting Firm and Controller within the Government for over 17 years, he uses his experiences to improve and expand the WBL Program.

Evans is quick to assert that there are misconceptions about the Work-Based Learning Program. Evans notes, “There are some who feel that WBL is just another opportunity for students to leave school early and basically meander for the duration of each day. This is erroneous. There are specific mechanisms that are set in place to ensure that all WBL students are reporting daily and timely to their assigned work sites.”

As Evans explains, there are two required components to the program: Academic Course Element and the actual hands on Employment Element. The Academic Element involves intensive course work in preparing the student for the world of work. The course work is presented during three work segments via portfolio, each segment consisting of at least six intensive assignments. The assignments include items such as preparing a professional Resume, preparing a Budget, Employability Skills Assessment, Career Internet Research, Developing Job Search Strategies, Character Counts Essays, and professional interviewing skills. Students are graded on each individual assignment and earn 1-2 full credits towards graduation.

The Employment Element is the actual work experience where students are placed through the school’s program at a participating work site. The work experience can be paid or unpaid. In either case, the student is allowed to experience and gain actual work experience in their field of study.

Placing a student at a work site takes time and effort on both the part of the student and Evans. The student’s goals for the future are discussed and Evans explains all the expectations from both the perspective of the school and the business. Whenever possible, the connection is made as close as possible to the interest of the student. For example, if the student has an interest in becoming a Physical Therapist in the future, Evans will attempt to find a suitable position in this field for the student. In this way, the business receives a student that has an abundance of interest in learning and the student has an opportunity to learn about the profession.

Evans understands that being a good employee takes more than building skills. It is essential for employees to be people of good character with strong moral convictions. Evans says, “It is so important that we support our youth in building character because in America we have noticed that negativities have labeled our young people as failures. There is a certain part of our society that expects and implements negativity when it comes to our youth. We must ban together as a mighty force against this way of thinking by teaching our youth, not from a distance but close up, on the importance of Character and Morals. It is our responsibility to snatch our children out of the hands of a negative society and create more positive communities.”

The success of the program is evident. The first semester of the 2007-08 school year, 62 students completed their assignments. Several went on to be a part of the Second Semester where the number of students was 88. One of these students was Erin Kelley. As part of their assignments, there is both an oral and written presentation that require the student to explain how and what they learned in relation to the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. In her essay, Erin wrote, “Each of these pillars has a unique purpose that directly relates to how each person’s character is defined through their actions, qualities, and reasoning. Personally, I feel these are the basis for anyone willing to have a positive outlook on his or her life presently and in the future. My Work-Based Learning experience has aided me in several aspects of character and boosted my own self of confidence allowing me to progress each day as an intern and in jobs to come.”

Obviously the success of WBL is dependent upon businesses that care about the future generation and their growth and development. Centreville National Bank is one such business. Chris Clough, Manager at the Chester Office, hired April Rieken after she was recommended by a fellow employee for the position. Once accepted, Clough received paperwork from Evans for daily reporting of hours and monthly evaluation purposes that was easy to complete. Cough states, “April is still employed with us and is a pleasure to work with. She is a quick learner and a valuable employee.”

Evans gratefully thanks all the businesses that have assisted the students and for making the program so successful. He adds, “I would request of the community to allow these wonderful students an opportunity to come and be employed in your companies while simultaneously allowing a student to have first hand knowledge of what the world of work is really like. These students are extremely responsible and dedicated. They just desire the opportunity to display their talents. Our students range from office workers, banking, accounting, bookkeeping, receptionist, physical therapy aides, teacher aides, mechanics, maintenance, sales clerks, stockers, cooks and waiters.”

Evans is clearly enthusiastic and passionate about the students and his work with them, stating, “We must implement programs that work. Programs that can help young people realize the importance of living a life of Character and Morals. These programs must transform the day-to-day experience in schools across America so that schools and students can thrive. The programs must support schools in their primary academic mission. Studies show that a positive school community and climate is key for academic success. It also gives educators needed support. These programs must support young people in their social and emotional development.” If you want to be a part of the Work-Based Learning Program at Kent Island High School, contact James Evans at KIHS at 410-643-2070 ext. 3014 or by email at Character Counts! thanks James Evans for his support and dedication to our youth. For information about Character Counts! contact Jacki Carter at 410-758-6677.