CHURUBUSCO — What do Whitley County businesses want to see in high school graduates?

That question was the foundation of the Whitley Works program, which began two years ago as an idea during a meeting between school representatives and local businesses.

Larry Ruiz, a business teacher at Churubusco Jr./Sr. High School, discussed the program — now entering its second year of serving students — at the Aug. 19 Smith-Green Community Schools board meeting.

The program, funded by a Lily grant, began last August, and is in collaboration with Whitley County Consolidated Schools.

“We meet with each school corporation every month to see how we can help serve our community better,” Ruiz said.

A key component of the program (and the first component, implemented last year) is the freshman mentorship program.

“Last year was year one of four [for the program],” Ruiz said. “Eighty-four students were in the freshman mentorship program. About 81 attended all sessions, which is amazing.”

Those 84 students were mentored by 15 community members in seven sessions, one per month from October 2018 to April 2019. The middle five sessions focused on PRIDE: Persistence, Respectfulness, Initiative, Dependability and Efficiency.

The final month included a wrap-up session with feedback surveys, and lessons crafted by the mentors. Results of the feedback showed that a large majority of both students and mentors thought the program benefited both parties personally and professionally.

This year, there are 90 students and 17 mentor groups in the freshman program, Ruiz said.

“We have a lot of families [mentoring],” he said. “That’s a good representation of our community.”

This year’s sophomores will participate in job shadowing in various local businesses, including trades, manufacturing, healthcare, education, business, agriculture and public safety.

For next year, students can look forward to an enhanced work-based learning opportunity through Whitley Works.

“We’re still working on the definition of that,” Ruiz said, noting it could be an internship, a job or something else.

Additionally, the district now offers the Governor’s Work Ethic Certification to seniors, 14 of whom have signed up for this year.

To earn the certification — which provides benefits such as guaranteed interviews and tuition reimbursement opportunities — students must complete six hours of community service, earn a 2.0 or higher GPA (4.0 scale), meet all graduation requirements, have a 98 percent attendance rate, receive no more than one disciplinary referral all year, and earn five separate teacher recommendations on PRIDE characteristics.

“Columbia City had 14 meet the requirements last year,” Ruiz said. “The last part is key, having to have a teacher recommendation for each letter of PRIDE. That’s a really high accomplishment.”

The board also approved advertising the 2020-2021 budget, as well as the superintendent’s evaluation method, funding for students attending TROY Alternative School, and teacher evaluation data, among other items.

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