Inside the Community... Outside the book...
Local Youth Apprenticeship Students Grow Their Employable Skills
by Kathryn Schiliro • photos by Angelina Bellebuono
if left up to more than 30 school-by-day, work-by-night local students, the ancient Roman mantra rings true. "Experience is the best teacher."
It is to that end that 31 Morgan County High School juniors and seniors chose to participate in the school's Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) this year.
Started roughly 10 years ago at Morgan County High School, YAP includes career-related classes at school before turning students out into the community, where they hold jobs for anywhere from five to 20 hours a week. While they are permitted to leave school early, this is strictly according to the number of hours they work per week.
Grades are based on schoolwork, namely a portfolio, as well as employer evaluations, specifically the number of hours worked by the student.
According to the Georgia Department of Education's Web site, YAP "is a structured combination of school-based and work-based learning. Through a coordinated effort involving business and industry, Youth Apprenticeship addresses the dual [goal] of preparing students for the world of work and providing Georgia with a highly skilled, technologically competitive workforce."
On a more individualized basis, though, YAP means much more than that to the local students and employers that take part in the program.
Morgan County High School Assistant Principal Davis Bell took over the program five years ago and, in his time, saw the number of students in YAP double. He maintains that YAP gives students opportunities they couldn't fine elsewhere at school.
"Students can go ahead and jump-start their career with a post-secondary link," Bell said. "It gives students the opportunity to see what they can do, gives them a skill set to come back and be good employees."
Further, it benefits the community, and the growing of a more competent workforce.
"It's a wonderful opportunity to have a collective effort among the school and business partners and...to work together to improve the workforce and to help out employers with students in the community," Bell said.
Teacher Dottie Freeman took over YAP this year, and currently has YAP students at about 25 different places of business throughout Morgan County.
Freeman maintains that the employers get as much of having YAP students as the students do gaining experience through the employers.
"They aren't doing it to get cheap employees," Freeman said, of local employers. "They want to serve as mentors, to help guide young people."
Of course, the bottom line of YAP comes down to helping the students grow career skills.
"For true YAP students, it broadens their horizons as far as that field," Freeman said. "Their attendance is better because they know they have to be at school in order to go to work. They feel they are fulfilling a purpose. They are self-confident. They are more disciplined and learn time management...The standards are high for them."
This said, the benefits don't always end with increased employability.
Despite the fact that his father owns a local motorcycle shop, Jared Conrad chose to participate in YAP and work at Conner's Auto Parts.
"Because family don't pay," Conrad said.
Senior Taran Schultz, 18, began working with Dr. Jeffrey Jackson at Social Circle Veterinary Hospital and East Metro Animal Emergency Clinic almost two years ago.
"I wanted to help animals and I've always been interested in the animal anatomy," Schultz said.
So far, so good. She's learned to draw blood and sedate animals as well as been privy to veterinary surgeries.
"I've learned to be patient with people, to know information by heart and the little, small questions we can answer without having to go to the doctor to ask," Schultz said. "It's been a great experience seeing surgeries, knowing what we are supposed to do in different situations. It's weird to know there are different drugs for different things. Each patient's treatment is completely different."
And Jackson, who has also employed one young man from Social Circle High School through YAP, has made that part of Schultz's learning experience.
"I have to be able to explain procedures and techniques step by step and answer questions in terms that the student-employee will be able to understand," Jackson said, through e-mail correspondence. "Encourage them to ask questions. And letting them have hands-on experience will help them learn it better."
Jackson considers YAP students an asset to the business.
"It's nice having someone who is eager to learn new techniques and procedures," Jackson said. "They are able to connect with the clients and help explain/understand what's happening to their pet, whether it's having to go through surgery or help console after the loss of their beloved pet."
So far, Schultz's experience through YAP reinforced the idea that she wanted to pursue a veterinary degree in college. She just applied to Georgia College and State University.
"It [YAP] gets you ready for the future," Schultz said.
Senior Ashley Watkins, 18, works with GiGi Gerhardt, owner of GiGi's Salon, and has since August 2008, washing hair and cleaning up.
"I'm taking cosmetology here at high school," Watkins said. "That's what I want to go to college to do."
Her experience at GiGi's so far, though, taught her more than any book ever could.
"Cosmetology is a lot harder than you'd think," Watkins said. "You have to be patient...But, it [YAP] helped me decide that's what I want to do."
And Gerhardt, who has previously apprenticed three students in Miami, seems to appreciate the willingness to learn.
"They get one-on-one professional, hands-on training with the clients and me," Gerhardt said, through e-mail correspondence. "It's great to have an assistant to learn one-on-one and help me throughout my day!"
And the benefits of the YAP program to local high school students?
"I think it's a wonderful program; it gives students the opportunity to see if this is the career path they really want to take," Gerhardt said. "At the same time, it's a great asset to my business!"
"You make money and you get to get out of school," Watkins said. "If you get into a good program, that helps you decide what you're interested in."
Through Gerhardt, it would seem as if Watkins has made a lifelong mentor.
"Ashley Watkins has been a wonderful apprentice and a great asset to my salon; she has a great personality and will be a highly talented cosmetologist," Gerhardt said. "I look forward to helping her with her career and working with her in my salon!"
Junior Jared Conrad, 17, has been employed by Bruce Conner at Conner's Auto Parts since August as well. Conrad chose to seek employment there because of his familiarization with the business.
"I've gone there since I was young," Conrad said.
And Conner, who had employed about six YAP students, takes mentoring, well, as his duty.
"Usually, when they come to me, they're pretty green," Conner said. "Most have an automotive background or interest. We grow that...We try to get them involved in what we do. As time goes on, we put them out there with the customers more...I like to do some mentor stuff, give back to the community. It's how I started years ago, and I want to carry that on."
Employing YAP students also keeps Conner's Auto "in touch with the younger crowd," Conner said.
While Conrad is poised to take over his father's local motorcycle shop, his experience at Conner's Auto Parts has taught him more about his soon-to-be line of business.
"It helps me work towards choosing my career and what it is like working in the auto parts field," Conrad said.
As far as the benefits of YAP, Conner believes he's aided in preparing a future generation for work.
"Over the years I've gotten some good kids from it," Conner said. "We've helped some get started, have work ethics, find out what the real world is about."
And the benefits of YAP for Conrad? Strictly financial.
"You are out working for a class period, so it's like getting paid to go to school but you're not at school," Conrad said.
Since August, Junior Shawndocee Grant, 17, has worked in the law office of local attorney Lynne Perkins-Brown completing data entry and acting as secretary.
"Law is my passion," Grant said. "To be able to do something in the field I love is awesome. My goal is to attend UGA at their law school (when I finish my high school career)."
By taking over the data entry, Grant has freed up time for the firm's paralegal, Cindy. Apparently, it takes much less time to double- and triple-check Grant's entries than it does to enter the data.
"Because Shawn is over here making entries, Cindy can do that work," Perkins-Brown said. "It's less time-consuming to check than to go in and enter numbers over and over again."
The experience has benefitted Grant as well.
"I have learned more in detail about bankruptcy and the laws/regulations of it," Grant said. "I do not plan on being a bankruptcy attorney (criminal law is my niche), but learning the legal forms and terms has helped build my knowledge."
And, more than learning about law, Grant has gained experience just being an employee.
"You must be professional and ahead of the game in this field," Grant said. "Everything you do, it must be precise/accurate. There's no room for error."
This kind of hands-on learning that YAP provides is invaluable, according to Grant.
"If you're the type of person who likes to do things hands on and not have to do all your learning from a book, than this course is definitely for you," Grant said. "I want to pursue YAP my senior year as well. Not only is it awesome to do something you enjoy, but you get academic credit for it. That's the best overall part about Youth Apprenticeship."
Perkins-Brown is excited at the prospect of contributing to the community in this way, so much so that Grant is the fifth YAP student she's employed.
"All we've had have gone on to school...We get the kids with brains and they've all done well," Perkins-Brown said. "They learn professionalism here; they learn to think. We get use of their hard work. I appreciate that the school system does have a program like this. This is something we've done and we're going to continue to do."
Morgan County High School's Youth Apprenticeship Program is always looking for local businesses willing to take on a YAP student, especially given the growing demand for the program. If your business is interested, contact Dottie Freeman at 706.342.2336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the March 5, 2009 edition.