Preparing students to be successful in the workplace is an all encompassing endeavor," said Dr. Steve Whatley, Superintendent of Newton County Schools. "It's more than the classroom. Students need something that will put them over the top; something to make them stand out; something to help assure success as they take their place in society."
That statement became an action item for Newton County Schools' Work-based Learning and Youth Apprenticeship coordinators and culminated recently with the first annual Aspiring Young Professionals Evaluation Dinner.
Aspiring Young Professionals reached 120 Work-based Learning and Youth Apprenticeship students socializing with more than 50 community business and professional leaders during a networking and dinner event.
During the dinner community leaders were asked to observe and later evaluate students on six points: handshake and eye contact; appropriateness of dress; ability to make appropriate conversation; greeting and introduction; courtesy to speakers; and table manners. Additionally, evaluators were asked, "Based on this meeting, would you invite this student for a job interview if you had an opening to fill?"
"The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive," says Cynthia Marvel, Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator. "We are so very proud of our students. Based on the feedback, I believe our community leaders were very impressed."
Under the direction of James Woodard, director of Career, Technical and Agriculture Education, event coordinators Allison Jordan, Nikyta Belser, Julie Brand and Marvel developed strategies to help students gain those skills and competencies necessary to "put them over the top."
Beginning last fall students attended monthly meetings which focused on dining etiquette, communication, greeting and introductions, appropriate attire for business meetings and job interview skills.
"Engaging students is paramount," Woodard said. "I believe that acquiring a job is not always based on how well a person can perform on the job but also on how well potential candidates present themselves. Interaction with peers and respect for authority, both in the workplace and socially, building lifelong relationships along with good solid work ethics are essential to success."
Keynote speaker Dr. Roderick Sams, principal of Newton High School, offered a challenging and motivating address to students.
"Moving forward is accomplished by hard work, yes but also knowing how to interact with community leaders as well," he said.
For students, the evening proved to be enlightening, educational, encouraging and enjoyable.
"I appreciate the opportunity to practice these skills," Eastside High student Kane Pass said. "Sure, I know what I should do and how I should behave; now I know why."
"I will long remember this evening and how interesting and interested my evaluators were," said Newton High student Marissa Benson.
The school system plans to make this an annual event.