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CHHS students ‘ready to work’ thanks to new program

A few dozen students at Charles Henderson High School are now ‘ready to work’ thanks to a new course being offered.

Principal Brock Kelley introduced the Ready-to-Work Program last year as a pilot program for the school after seeing it applied at junior colleges.

“There’s a push right now toward having all sutdents college-ready or career-ready or both,” Kelley said. “Two years ago I was made aware of a program called Ready-to-Work that was being offered by junior colleges. They partnered with a couple of industries that would send people to get students trained and then they’d hire them. I thought ‘Why couldn’t we do that here?’”

So Kelley reached out and partnered with Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusioa and Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT) to implement the program at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

Of 15 students that participated, Kelley said 14 were hired directly as a result of the program.

Now, the class has doubled to 30 students and the State Department of Education is expanding the program into other schools.

“We were the only high school in the state to offer the program last year,” Kelley said. “At the end of the year, a couple of schools came and viewed our program. It was so successful that the state department has a pilot program offered to 10 high schools.”

Instructor Sonny Kirkpatrick said the class is based on talking to local industry leaders at places such as the Smart Plant, Wal-Mart Distribution Center, Lockheed Martin, Troy Bank and Trust and others to see what their needs are for employees.

“That became a focus on our end: teaching interview skills, how to dress appropriately, teambuilding skills, interview skills, banking skills – every class has really enjoyed the banking session,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re going to talk to more industries about what they want hires to come in and know how to do. Then we’ll work on putting the skills that they want for our students into the curriculum.”

Kelley said the course is currently 18 weeks and is still primarily book-based with the addition of industry leaders coming in to speak to the students, but that administrators are looking to potentially expand the course and integrate hands-on learning of trade skills that can make students ready to hire immediately upon completion of the program.

Victoria Mahone, a senior that just finished the class this semester, said the curriculum helped her to become more comfortable with the process of seeking a place in the workforce.

“Mock interviews got me over my fear of going into an interview for the first time using tools (Kirkpatrick) taught in classes,” Mahone said. “It got me over so many fears of going into a room with people that you don’t know. All I was thinking about was what we went over: make good eye contact, have a firm handshake, where to position your hands on a desk. I feel so much better now.” It really, really helped me.”

Ashely Ensley, another student in the class this semester, said the financial teaching of the class was a big help.

“I think we knew how to write a check but didn’t know the whole concept,” Ensley said. “It really taught how to budget money and a lot of living day-to-day things.”

Kelley said he’s excited to be helping students get a door into the workforce while still in school.

“We’re hoping to have this program grow into something that our students can possibly go to top of the hiring list for the industries around here,” Kelley said.