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Governor’s program works for CHS students

3 students in program

Left to right, freshman Annebelle Haas, senior Logan Soohey and sophomore Drew Pacilio are among the nearly 200 Chesterton High students participating in the “Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate” program.  

Article courtesy of TOM KEEGAN 

Raise your hand if ever you heard someone grouse, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, that young people, “just don’t want to work.”

Rather than join that chorus of boos, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office decided to do something, in conjunction with Indiana high schools, to inspire and reward a strong work ethic in teenagers.

The Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate (GWEC), according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development website page “is critical to providing a pipeline of skilled high school graduates for today’s workforce.”

English teacher Mrs. (Doretta) Kurzinski heads the voluntary program at Chesterton High and principal Brent Martinson, a big backer of it, works closely with her on it.

Nearly 700 students initially signed up for the program, but once they saw how much was involved in it, the number dwindled to “almost 200 who followed through,” Kurzinski said.

Non-seniors who realized they could not fit it into their schedules this year were encouraged to return in a future year.

Each participating student was given a plastic card that has a small lock at the top of it and lists the 10 keys to success.

“One of the things we have to do when we get these kids out of her is to teach them how to be good adults, right? So this work ethic program really helps them see that their behavior maters in the workforce,” Kurzinski said. “We do a ramped up program at Chesterton, compared to many other schools.”

Part of the work the students do toward earning a certificate involves “doing little videos and discussions that show they are concentrating on learning what it means to have these 10 work ethic elements.”

The 10 modules: 1. Show a positive attitude; 2. Be honest and have integrity; 3. Follow directions; 4. Apply good listening skills; 5. Maintain a safe work environment; 6. Arrive to work on time; 7. Recognize problems and find solutions; 8. Manage time effectively; 9. Work well with others; 10. Respect diversity and exercise tolerance.

Since last year was the first year of the program, there are students in their first and second years of it. Next year will include third-year students and two years from now will have students in their fourth year, which will include teaching the program to younger students.

Freshman Annebelle Haas was skeptical when her friends talked her into signing up for the program, for which students earn points toward a certificate but are not graded.

“I thought it was just like let’s do that and get it done kind of thing, but it’s a lot more helpful than I thought,” Haas said. “The ones that probably helped me the most were apply good listening skills and recognizing problems and finding solutions. Also, working well with others, that one really helped me too. It taught me that from a bad situation I need to go to good. I need to figure out how to have good conversations with people.”

One of the assignments called for students to call an employer. Haas spoke to a woman from a pharmaceutical company in Valparaiso.

“You were supposed to ask her two questions and be done, but I was seriously curious about this company and I kept asking her more and more questions and I learned a lot and I thought it was really interesting,” Haas said. “I was definitely kind of nervous, but after that experience I did feel more comfortable talking to certain people about certain things that normally would make me uncomfortable to where I’d be scared, ‘Oh, should I be asking this? Should I be curious about this? Is this something I should really be doing?’ After this experience it really showed me OK, if I have a question I should definitely ask them. This is something I should be learning. This is something that I should know and I’m sure they would be happy answering them for me. Definitely I would say it helped me.”

Sophomore Drew Pacilio, a soccer player and golfer, shared why he signed up for the program, which can lead to receiving academic cords at graduation.

“I’m in season now, but I won’t be over the summer, and I want to have these skills that I’ll accumulate to get a job when I need one,” he said.

Senior Regan Krachinski said she signed up because she thought it would look good on college applications. She’ll never know if she would have gained admission to Auburn University and Indiana State without that line on her application, but she did get into both schools, so at the very least it didn’t hurt.

“I feel like a lot of what we do in this aligns with what Mr. (Mark) Peterson teaches for the internships,” said Krachinski, who has one job at Menard’s in Valparaiso, and another at Bubbles, an ice cream shop in Michigan City. “A lot of the stuff, like make sure you make eye contact and shake people’s hands, that Mr. Peterson teaches is the same here.”

Senior Logan Soohey is in the first year of the program.

“It taught me what people are looking for when you apply for jobs,” said Soohey, who has an internship at a construction company. “Interpersonal communication skills, talking to people, how to be respectful, how to be polite, how to talk to different types of people.”

Jordan Huneryager, a senior in her second year in the program, said that “showing a positive attitude,” is the key she has found most helpful at her job at Val’s Famous Pizza and Grinders, where answering phones and making salads are among her duties.

“Sometimes when I would go into work I was not the nicest, but now when I go into work I try to be nice to everyone and try to be as positive as I can be,” she said.

As for why she wasn’t always pleasant to coworkers, Huneryager said, “Some of them are a bit much. Some of them talk a little more than others.”

How did she find a solution to that problem?

“I started being more talkative myself and engaging in more conversations,” she said.

In order to earn a certificate, students must finish their work on the 10 modules by the end of March, must meet specified attendance requirements, maintain a Caverage, have no more than one disciplinary issue during the school year, and complete six hours of community service.

They accumulate points in part based on adult evaluations of their work on modules.

“We want them to know and understand what these work ethic elements are and incorporate them into their lives as much as possible,” Kurzinski said.

She has the key to the lock on the cards that list the 10 work ethic elements.

“They had to come to me and I gave them a key to open their lock, to unlock their future,” Kurzinski said. “Then we encourage them to put the card in their wallet so that they can look at it periodically.”