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Work-based learning students practice professional skills
Students are evaluated on their networking skills, dress and professionalism during the dinner set up. (Submitted photo | The Covington News)

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Newton County School System’s (NCSS) Work-Based Learning and Youth Apprenticeship programs held the annual Aspiring Young Professionals (AYP) Evaluation Dinner. About 200 students and 40 adult volunteer evaluators attended. The event is a mandatory learning experience for work-based learning and youth apprenticeship students.

“The purpose of the dinner is to allow our work-based learning students the chance to network in a dinner setting,” Debra Lary, NCSS career related education coordinator, said. “More and more companies are moving towards taking groups of job candidates on interview lunches or dinners. We want our students to know how to behave in this type of setting. The purpose is to also allow the students to practice eye contact, handshake, conversational skills, etc. These are the skills local employers say today’s teens are lacking.”

The dinner was held at the Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA) and catered by the NCCA’s Culinary Department. Therefore the event also provided a learning opportunity for NCSS’s culinary students, under the direction of Chefs Scott Quinlan and Charlotte Joy.

The program was structured to include time for conversation, introductions and networking prior to the dinner. During that time, two secret evaluators—Ken Ondracek, business teacher at Alcovy High School and Larry Perry from Conyers Honda—identified one student from each NCSS high school who did a particularly good job of initiating conversation and who seemed exceptionally at ease talking to someone they had just met.

“This is to encourage the students to network as much as possible with the adults,” Lary said. “The winners receive a prize from their work-based learning coordinator.”

The students who stood out this year and who were recognized at the end of the program included: Abbie Queen, Eastside High; Jerome Belcher, Newton High; Andrew Fincher, Alcovy High; and Sarah Cox, NCCA.

During the dinner up to five students were seated at each table with one adult evaluator. The evaluators included about 30 work-based learning employers with the rest being Chamber of Commerce members, current and retired teachers, as well as community leaders.

Chris Wood, vice president of business services and external affairs for Snapping Shoals EMC, was one evaluator. He said that Snapping Shoals encourages its employees to be involved in the community and added “I had mentors who helped me along the way. I wanted to turn around and help others the same way.”

At the end of the meal, evaluators rated the students at their table on appearance, table manners, and conversational skills. The ratings along with additional constructive criticism were shared with the students the following day.

At the end of the program, this year’s NCSS work-based learning employer of the year was announced as Strauss & Frost, LLC, a law firm in Covington. 

The after dinner speaker was Shakila Henderson-Baker, a member of the NCSS Board of Education representing district 3.

Barbara Wall, career, technical and agricultural education (CTAE) director for the Georgia Department of Education was in attendance and said, “I wanted to see what this event was all about. Not every school district in Georgia does such a thing.”

This year about 200 NCSS students are participating in the work-based learning and youth apprenticeship programs. This number has been growing; there were about 120 participating students two years ago and about 175 last year.

According to the NCSS’s program overview, “The Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship Program in Newton County allows juniors and seniors who have identified a specific career objective to obtain experience and skills in a workplace setting. Through Work-Based Learning the student’s place of employment becomes an extension of school instruction with the mentor acting as a co-teacher in this endeavor.” Students who successfully complete a workplace learning experience earn elective CTAE credit.

Austin Parish, an Alcovy High senior, said he applied to the work-based learning program for the experience and to earn credit for the part-time work he would have done anyway. Jasmine Graham, a Newton High junior, said she wanted the job experience to help her advance her career interests. Applications from students wishing to participate next year will be requested in March.

According to Lary, “Work-based learning and apprenticeship employers are expected to mentor the student or have a designated mentor for them. They complete an employer evaluation detailing the student’s performance a minimum of four times a year. They sign a training agreement and help the work-based learning coordinators create a training plan for the student. Employers are also expected to provide meaningful learning experiences for the students. Depending on the job or internship placement, safety training is required for the student as well.”