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Chamber of commerce, KCHS team up on new mentorship program

Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2001

The Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Kenai Central High School are teaming up to expand on a 6-year-old job shadow program, with semester-long mentorships.

Scheduled for spring semester, seniors in advanced placement language arts and honors English are eligible.

"What we're looking to do is have a pilot program with two or three students matched up with chamber members," said Audrey Walaszek, executive director of the chamber. "It's the next natural extension after job shadow."

The job shadow program places every student in the KCHS junior class with a working professional to follow around for a day, getting to know the job. It will continue, and is scheduled for Feb. 13.

The mentorship program will place students in the job setting five hours a week for the spring semester. Students will get 1/2 practical arts credit for the program, but generally won't be paid. The students will be evaluated throughout the semester, and will have a final project they must complete.

"What this is aimed at is helping the students make wise choices and let them experience as much as they can on the job," said Colleen Ward, a management services consultant and the chamber's education committee chair. "We feel this is a win-win-win scenario."

She said 75 percent of all high school graduates do not finish college, and only 19 percent of jobs require a college degree.

"There are things we can do to help them transition on from high school to life beyond," Ward said.

"We are very excited for the students of Kenai Central to have this opportunity to explore careers in a safe learning environment," said KCHS principal Barry Swenson. "What we hope to do is guide students to fields that truly fit them."

He said the program will give the students a better understanding of why they are learning certain subjects in school, and how the classes will help them after high school.

One of the potential outcomes of the mentorship will be if a student realizes their dream job is more of a nightmare of tedium.

"We would see that as a success," Ward said. "In high school they don't have a lot of opportunity to experience what people do and what routine life is like on the job."

By finding out what their dream job is really like, students will be able to make better career choices by continuing that path or taking another.

Swenson said there are six students initially interested in the mentorship. They went through an orientation on Friday, and Ward said the students next will decide what kind of jobs they are interested in.

"Then we'll meet with the parents and make sure the commitment is there," Ward said.

Students must be taking a related class during the spring semester.

"For example, if a student was interested in journalism, they must take an English class," she said.

Ward said the chamber of commerce sees mentorships as a good tool to keep today's young people in town after high school or after returning from college.

"The brain drain, out-migration and the aging of our population is a challenge to the chamber," she said. "In 10 years we might not have a pool of workers to draw from."

Ward said the chamber board of directors approved the plan, and she praised members for their support of youth in the community.

"The youth respond well to that," she said. "We've gotten a lot of good feedback."

She is asking chamber member businesses interested in being a mentor to call Walaszek at 283-2989, or herself at 283-6007. Ward's e-mail address is xcel@alaska.com.



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