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Education, Business Team to Promote Good High School Work Habits

A joint initiative among businesses and schools to reinforce the principles of a strong work ethic in high school students is expanding regionally. Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Outreach for K-12 Office is facilitating the expanded program, recruiting businesses to lend their endorsement to the project.

“School Counts” encourages students to make the most of their important high school years and acquire the habits they will need to succeed. Students who participate are given a credential each school year from ninth to 12th grade for meeting criteria that demonstrate responsibility.

To earn a certificate, students must obtain a “C” grade or better in every class, achieve at least a 95-percent attendance and punctuality rate, take more than the minimum number of required credits, and demonstrate positive behavior with no out-of-school suspensions. Students who meet the criteria all four years and graduate from high school in eight consecutive semesters earn a master certificate.

According to Matt Lutcavage, talent manager for Weis Markets, one of more than 150 School Counts employers, as positive as it is to encourage students, the initiative also pays dividends to participating businesses that will benefit when the successful students become successful employees. “It’s about self-preservation. By giving and being a part (of this project) we’re sustaining our own company as we move into the future,” he said.

School Counts was adapted in 2003 from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce’s School Counts program by the Tri-Chamber Foundation, a business-education partnership centered in Columbia and Montour counties. The program has since gone regional and is now offered to students and businesses throughout central Pennsylvania.

“The reason the Tri-Chamber Foundation took on this project five years ago is because we asked businesses what was lacking from students, and they said “˜work ethic,'” said Tracy L. Gillespie, co-facilitator for the Tri-Chamber Foundation and adult education coordinator for Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School. “The schools are doing a great job with skills, but the kids coming out didn’t have the work ethic.”

In return, young people need to know that there is a correlation between working hard in school and finding a job whether at a Fortune 500 company or in the stockroom of a local retail store. Employers who sign on to the program are encouraged to reinforce these messages by taking the School Counts credential into consideration when evaluating high school job applicants.

“In the competitive landscape that we’re faced with now, we’re going to be fighting for the most skilled people that are out there,” Lutcavage said. “School Counts identifies those core competencies that we’re looking for: commitment to attain a certain GPA and commitment to show up for school and work. Those are basic competencies that we’re looking for at every level in our company.”

“For some time, the public schools have heard from representatives of the business community that basic work-preparedness skills must be strengthened among those leaving school at any level,” said David C. Wright, director of student services for the Williamsport Area School District. “One step that the schools in Lycoming County, and many across the region, have chosen to take is to implement School Counts. “¦ This credential can be recognized by participating employers when hiring for after-school jobs, summer employment and eventually permanent career placements. This raises the relevance of learning and displaying the attendance-related skills that our students need to advance themselves in the real world.”

Gillespie said studies show that students’ work habits in high school carry over to their careers.

“So many students think, “˜What I do in high school doesn’t matter. When I get out into the business world is when I’ll buckle down.’ It’s proven to not be the case,” she said.

Gillespie explained School Counts can aid in the hiring process for companies that employ high school students or recent graduates. For example, she explained, companies like Thompson Mailing, of Bloomsburg, which asks on its application whether potential employees have earned a School Counts certificate, find out immediately when applicants answer “Yes” that they are going to show up and are going to show up on time, and that they earned a “C” or better, so they should be able to learn the job.

“It really helps,” Gillespie said. “Kids are excited about it, and businesses are excited about it. It lets the kids know that, yes, businesses really do care; they’re watching, and it matters.”

“School Counts has become one of the best ways to connect students to employers,” said Tabitha Beaver, communication and education coordinator for the Central PA Chamber of Commerce. “It bridges the “˜no experience’ gap for students who are applying for jobs. As an employer, it is also a positive way to acknowledge a young person’s work ethic, which he or she is very likely to carry over into the workplace.”

The Tri-Chamber Foundation’s School Counts Initiative is expanding to Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Sullivan and Union counties as part of a two-year project of the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp. called “Gold Medal Initiative: Champions for Career Development.” Penn College’s Outreach for K-12 Office is administering a grant from the CPWDC to lead the initiative. Thus far, 24 school districts and two private schools in seven counties participate.

In addition to the Tri-Chamber Foundation, the Central PA Chamber of Commerce and CPWDC, School Counts is supported by Brush Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, Central Susquehanna Opportunities Inc., Juniata Valley Area Chamber of Commerce and Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce.

Students can sign up to participate in School Counts at their local high schools. Businesses interested in supporting School Counts may visit online , where interested students may also find a list of participating schools and businesses. Parents and businesses may also contact their local chamber of commerce.

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