“Preparing students to be successful in the workplace is an all encompassing endeavor,” proclaimed Dr. Steve Whatley, Superintendent of Schools, last fall, adding “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 on January 21, with the first Aspiring Young Professionals Evaluation Dinner. Aspiring Young Professionals was a huge success with 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,” she added. Under the direction of Mr. James Woodard, Director of Career, Technical and AgricultureEducation, coordinators Allison Jordan, Nikyta Belser, Julie Brand and Cynthia Marvel developedstrategies to help students gain those skills and competencies necessary to “put them over thetop”. Beginning last fall students attended monthly meetings which focused on dining etiquette,communication, greeting and introductions, appropriate attire for business meetings and jobinterview skills. Of the training process, Woodard stated, “Engaging students is paramount. 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, Newton High, Principal, 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,” said Sams. James Johnson, member of the Covington Newton Chamber of Commerce confirmed membersupport and chamber commitment to develop educational initiatives that would provide a future workforce that would be competitive locally, nationally and globally. For students the evening proved to be enlightening, educational, encouraging and above all, enjoyable. Eastside High student Kane Pass stated that, “I appreciate the opportunity to practice these skills. Sure I know what I should do and how I should behave; now I know why.” Newton High student Marissa Benson said, “I will long remember this evening and how interesting and interested my evaluators were.” Marissa’s initial suggestion for the event name prompted the Aspiring Young Professionals label – a tongue?in?cheek reference to AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). “On behalf of our students, schools, coordinators and administrators, I would like stress my sincere thanks to Mr. Tommy Hailey and his staff for providing the perfect environment for such an event and to all our community leaders who spent the evening with our students offering feedback, guidance and encouragement. These folks are always willing to step up in support of our schools and young people. They are true leaders, indeed,” stated Whatley. “We look forward to this being an annual event,” he added. For more information on the Newton County School System Aspiring Young Professionals program, contact Ms. Cynthia Marvel, NCSS Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator, at (770) 784?2979.