Kids get ready for class in the hall while community members conduct interviews inside the classrooms they normally occupy.

Kids get ready for class in the hall while community members conduct interviews inside the classrooms they normally occupy.

You’re nervous, anxious even. You know you’ve got this one chance to make an impression and if you blow it, that’s it! You don’t get the job. The interviewer puts his hand out to shake yours and terror grips your heart because you’re nervous and nerves equal sweaty palms!

“If you’re gross, you just wipe your hands and then shake,” said Angela Cavalier, a math teacher at Centennial Junior High School here in Casper. “If they’re [the interviewer] gross you just shake their hand and own it! You can do the interview and then go wash your hands afterward.”

This advice is a small, humorous part of a life skills unit Cavalier and her teaching partner, and fellow math teacher, Kerin Dillon developed in response to some startling revelations they’ve experienced teaching junior high school aged kids.

Cavalier had the idea for the unit at the beginning of the year, but she got serious about it this Spring after returning from a training trip to Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia. RCA’s mission is “To deliver the highest quality educational experience where global citizens are born through advanced rigor, engaging teaching methods, and a passionate climate and culture”. Its vision is “To be the best school in the world by demonstrating transformative methods and techniques that are embraced and replicated everywhere.” (learn more about Ron Clark Academy here: http://www.ronclarkacademy.com/)

When Cavalier left the RCA training she recognized some deficiencies in the skill sets our junior high school students had when compared to the fifth graders she was exposed to at RCA. The kids in that learning environment didn’t match up with what she sees in Casper on a daily basis.

Greiner Ford representative Larry Wilson interviews a student during Monday, Apr. 24, 2017.

Greiner Ford representative Larry Wilson interviews a student during Monday, Apr. 24, 2017.

“When I left there I was thinking: Man! These fifth graders are coming in and introducing themselves and they’re ready with small talk and interacting with people,” she said.

Readers may think these skills are inherent, but there’s a clear gap in life skills knowledge and educational core knowledge in students coming through the typical education system today. Dillon feels that concentration shifting to test scores and standards can account for some of the lack in social skills she sees.

We spend so much time focusing on covering our standards base given to us by our state, which are the standards required for our testing, that we forget the things that are real-life skills, she said.

“Some of our kids didn’t even know their address, zip code, or area code before this, or even what a zip code and area code were!” said Cavalier.

Artemis the Therapy Dog hangs out with students while they fill out their applications prior to their interviews. Artemis helps with stress levels amongst students at Centennial Junior High.

Artemis the Therapy Dog hangs out with students while they fill out their applications prior to their interviews. Artemis helps with stress levels amongst students at Centennial Junior High.

The unit Cavalier and Dillon put together for a short deviation from typical math curriculum and standards was a three week jaunt into what many adults don’t give second thought to: being social. The type of socialization these teachers are looking to encourage however, isn’t the type that has become common in society’s kids today.

“So often whenever the kids have an opportunity to work with a partner they just plug in their headphones and get to work,” said Cavalier. “They just stay within themselves. We’ve lost social interactions. We are social, but we do it through Snapchat. We sit in the same room and take selfies and text them back and forth with captions all day. We don’t know how to shake people’s hands or look them in the eye. We don’t know how to make small talk.”

We want them to be confident, she said.

Haley Cunningham, an eighth grader at Centennial said she felt she had learned more people skills during the training.

“Mrs. Cavalier makes us interact a lot. I used to be super shy and she’s help with that a lot,” said Cunningham.

The Centennial teachers felt it was most beneficial to structure the unit in a way that focused on getting a job.

The first week of the unit began with resumes. Cavalier brought templates in for the kids and during their Eagle Block, a 30 minute window of time after lunch, they worked with kids on how to write a resume.

The kids responded to resume building with: “I don’t have any skills,” according to Cavalier. She was able to help the kids translate their babysitting or athletic skills into job skills such as caregiving/care taking and team management skills.

“They had to really reflect on what skills do they have to make themselves marketable,” she said.

In the second week they worked on filling out applications.

“We wanted them to be better prepared on how to fill out an application,” said Dillon. “Half of them didn’t even know how to do a very basic application. It was interesting to see how many kids couldn’t even fill out their address and didn’t know what ST meant (state). I bet I had 30 kids ask me what ST meant.”

In the third and final week the unit focused on interview skills culminating in the ultimate test on the unit Monday and Tuesday, Apr. 24-25, interviews with community members from various businesses in Casper.

A female Centennial student sits for an interview with Glenda Thomas.

A female Centennial student sits for an interview with Glenda Thomas.

We started with peer interviews during the third week where they practiced with a friend that they would feel comfortable stumbling through it with, said Cavalier.

“I sat up front and I had them step out in the hallway and they would have them come in and introduce themselves and if they walked in sluggishly, I would say stop,” she said, then asked the student interviewers more questions. “Are they confident? What do they need to change? It was funny and they were silly, but it lead to those conversations like: ‘How do I say what my strengths are? How to I say what I’m good at?’”

The final days of the unit the community interviewers put them through a real interview process and rated them accordingly, providing honest feedback.

“It was nice to have the community members doing the interviews because there’s that level of discomfort,” said Dillon. They’re not going to know the people they will do interviews in the real world with the majority of the time, so to have us do the mock interviews would be too comfortable.

“To have those people from Greiner, Starbucks or wherever come in added that little piece of reality to it. The kids were uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing.”

The Centennial teaching partners felt the community support really made a big difference in how well received this program was by the students.

“People were super excited to donate,” said Cavalier. “So we went down to the lunch room yesterday and announced: these are the students that would have been hired today and we gave them their gift cards or whatever it was that was donated, and the kids were so excited! Then today we were late getting down to the lunch room. We were almost down to the last few minutes of lunch. The lunch supervisors were like: “Thank God you’re here because these kids have been asking me every five seconds: When are they coming? When are they coming? How did I do?

I just really am grateful for the community and the way that they donated their time and the gifts for these kids, the money and the stuff that they donated. I just can’t begin to thank people enough for that.”

The math teaching team, Angela Cavalier and Kerin, as well as Centennial Junior High School, would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the following businesses and community members for their support for this program and Casper’s kids! Interviewers– Qdoba-Nick Hill, Cheryl Howard, Glenda Thomas, Jennifer Cunningham, Principal Mike Britt, Assistant Principal Lisa Allen, Land Surveyor Scott Doyle, Greiner Ford Larry Wilson, Starbucks Rola Halabi, Evansville Firefighter Matthew Elliot, Omega Construction Monty Elliot, and Christopher (Critter) Murray. Donations– Bliss, Buffalo Wild Wings, Qdoba, East Side Starbucks, Chipotle, Movie Theater, Keg and Cork, Coldstone, Pizza Ranch, Firehouse Pizza.

Kristin Schaeffer