By John Wolcott HBJ Freelance Writer
ARLINGTON — Arlington High School seniors are getting advice from local business people as part of their senior culminating project before entering the highly competitive employment market or advancing to college.
Over the years, the school has changed the state-required senior projects to make them more relevant to the real world by having community members, including experienced business owners and managers, evaluate things such as resumes, mock interviews, reference letters, appropriate dressing and job shadowing ventures.
Culminating project coordinator Alice Smithson said the program is patterned after Everett High School’s project guidelines and customized to Arlington’s needs.
“Our focus for seniors is the transition into the community and the working world or college after graduation,” she said. “Laura Piercy, our School-to-Work coordinator, has had great response from inviting the community into the process and participation continues to grow each year.”
The culminating project includes presentations and assignments that show each student’s ability to think analytically and creatively, form reasoned judgments and understand how performance, effort and attitudes affect future careers and education opportunities.
Students must prepare an employability portfolio and scholarly report, spend 40 hours on their project or 25 hours of community service in a topic of personal interest, make a presentation and write a reflective letter. Portions of the culmination project are completed over their four years of high school.
Other elements include a resume, job application and a cover letter or a college scholarship application, writing a reference letter, job shadows, a college visit and a documented interview.
Seniors’ presentations are made to a panel of high school and district office staff and local volunteers, many of whom are in the business community.
Smithson said students make a 15- to 20-minute presentation during their senior year at one of three project review panels. Upcoming review panels will be held March 27 and May 8.
“The business sector is a very important part of this culminating project,” Smithson said.
Job shadows, she noted, provide students with a realistic view of the workplace. Students learn about the employment outlook; observe business owners and employees at work; learn appropriate work attire; understand education, wages, benefits and technology; and learn organizational and people skills.
“The community has been very good about offering job shadows and students often find out the field they’re interested in is nothing like they imagined, which is as important, of course, as finding they’re thinking about the right choice for their future,” she said.
“Business people really help students understand things about the working world and students often listen to them better than they do to their parents’ or teachers’ advice,” said Arlington High School Principal Brian Beckley. “Sometimes they hear business people tell them there’s no way they would be hired because of dress, attitudes or how they present themselves, and those are good lessons for them.”
Sometimes it helps even with “little things like changing some of the inappropriate email names they give themselves,” Smithson said.
In 2012, she said the district started contacting the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce and reaching out to local business owners, asking them to join our panels to add more real-world experience to the panel talks.
“It’s been great for the students because they often get new ideas about what they want to do after graduation or what to study in college,” she said. “Also, it’s been enlightening for our business members to see high school students in a different light.”
Smithson’s daughter, for instance, wanted to work in a physical therapy environment until she completed a job shadow in a clinic and discovered “there was no way she could hurt people when she was giving them therapy, an important step for her.”
Also, when students see their peers dressed up for panel interviews it makes them realize how proper clothing, appearance and attitudes influence both the student and a potential employer or college official, she said.
“We want to graduate students who can write clearly, argue persuasive points, be able to fill out a job application and know how to conduct themselves properly in a workplace environment,” Beckley said. “It’s not about putting them through hoops or just to criticize them, it’s a program that helps them prepare for employment, college or the armed forces, to become a productive member of society. The culminating project truly does make a difference for them, hopefully validating that they’re ready to move on after high school.”