Hinds helping high-schoolers learn skills to make them stand out|[03/16/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 16, 2008

If you have a child in school — or even just know one — you’ve probably heard some variation of this complaint: “I have to do all this work, and I don’t even get paid for it.”

Well, there is one class available to Warren Central and Vicksburg high school students that does provide a paycheck in the short term and helps them build the skills necessary for a fruitful career in the long run.

For more than 30 years, the Hinds Community College’s Vickburg campus has offered a course in conjunction with local high schools allowing students to attain a job with a local employer and earn high school credits at the same time. Each year, about 40 students are selected to participate in the cooperative education course.

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“For a lot of these kids, this is their first job — and they basically don’t know anything about being employed coming into the class,” said Cynde Mott, one of two cooperative education instructors at Hinds. “We start with the basics, and try to teach them about everything from doing an interview and filling out a W-2 tax form to how to speak to an employer and handle co-workers.”

Cooperative education students are matched with local employers according to their career interests. Employers not only put the students on their staffs, they also grade them at the end of the nine-week course. In-class coursework accounts for 60 percent of each student’s grade, while employers decide the remaining 40 percent of the final mark.

“The employers are not required to keep them on staff either,” said Mott. “If a student gets fired for whatever reason, they receive an ‘F’ for that portion of their final grade.”

Students are required to work a minimum of 15 hours per week at their jobs. The class meets at Hinds one period each day to discuss their work experiences and do coursework on subjects such as financial management, work ethics, business etiquette, taxation and management’s role in the workplace.

While Mott said all students benefit from the classroom coursework, she believes the real lessons are learned while they’re on the job.

“I can teach this stuff until I’m blue in the face, but if we don’t send them out into the working world to experience it for themselves it’s just not effective,” she explained. “Some of them end up loving their jobs, and some of them end up hating them. Both experiences are good for them because they learn the realities of the working world that you can’t teach in a classroom.”

Not all students who apply for the cooperative education course are accepted.

Eligible students must be either a junior or senior, have a good attendance record, no disciplinary problems and average or above grades.

“It has been an extremely successful program over the years, both for the students and the employers,” said Tommy Lee, a cooperative education instructor since the program began 32 years ago. “There’s some employers who call me regularly when they have vacancies.”

Lee has seen many of his former co-op students go on to lead very successful careers during his time at Hinds. One of them is Michelle McRaney, a Warren Central graduate who worked for a local salon in high school while taking Lee’s cooperative education course. Since launching her own business in 1993, Tangles Hair Salon, McRaney has employed four high school students through the program.

“The students we have gotten are very driven, and they really learn to respect what they do throughout their time here,” she said. “The last student we had work for us is currently in cosmetology school.”

Fenly Akers is part of the Hinds program and works at Tangles. Though she doesn’t plan on staying in the cosmetology business, she enjoys the work.

“It’s never boring, and everyone is different,” said Akers, 18, the daughter of Tom and Lynda Akers.

The Vicksburg campus is accepting applications for next year’s cooperative education courses. Interested high school students can contact their school guidance counselor for an application and more information. Hinds Community College was founded in 1917 and is the largest community college in the state, with about 17,000 students enrolled each year. Campuses are located in Jackson, Raymond, Pearl, Utica and Vicksburg.