student and mentor looking at papers

School to Work program inspires success

By Ellen Nason

smiling men
Volunteer mentor Ken Howard, right, said he expects great things from Sharrieff Davis, who was part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana School to Work program and wants to be an anesthesiologist.

It’s the time of year when thousands of graduation ceremonies are held, signaling the end of one of life’s chapters and the beginning of another. It’s a time to celebrate reaching a goal and setting new ones.

Like many others, 15 students at a Louisville, Ky., high school recently celebrated the completion of a program that will help propel them toward a successful future. These students are not leaving high school yet, but they credit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana’s School to Work mentoring program for helping them figure out what they want to do when it is their turn to graduate.

The pilot program launched this year with 15 Seneca High School students who were matched with volunteer mentors from Humana and PricewaterhouseCoopers. It has been such a tremendous success that it will expand to 75 students throughout the Jefferson County Public School district next fall.

Over the course of several months, the students and their mentors completed a robust curriculum that they created together as a team. Topics included interview tips, dressing for success, how to develop a good personal brand image and its importance in the marketplace, managing finances and giving back to the community.

Ken Howard, a Humana employee and mentor, was drawn to the program immediately.

Seneca High School student James Keelin Jr. works on a project with his School to Work mentor, Jantzen O'Neal. (Photo by Lisa Huber)
Seneca High School student James Keelin Jr. works on a project with his School to Work mentor, Jantzen O’Neal. (Photo by Lisa Huber)

“As an African-American male, I saw a need and felt an obligation to become a mentor,” said Howard. “I wanted to connect with someone who looks like me and offer encouragement … you can succeed. The goal is to instill confidence.”

Howard is proud of the growth and progress he witnessed, recalling that Sharrieff Davis, the student he was matched with, was initially quiet, reserved and apprehensive about participating in practice interviews.

“When the facilitator asked for volunteers to conduct mock interviews, Sharrieff raised his hand to participate,” said Howard. “When he got in front of the group, he did an outstanding job and the facilitator was impressed.

“I encouraged him to try because anything is possible,” said Howard. “I was that kid at his age so I knew he needed a little prodding. I was amazed by his growth and development over the course of the program. He has lofty goals and wants to be an anesthesiologist. He has a lot to offer, and I expect great things from him.”

people sitting at tables
Mentors and students meet for a recent School to Work session at Seneca High School in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Lisa Huber)

The mentors and students took time during the final program session

to celebrate their time together and their accomplishments of the past few months: making the honor roll, getting jobs, volunteering in the community, joining the student council, being cleared to rejoin the football team and making new friends.

“I was excited to have the opportunity to be matched with someone who could teach me about careers and business,” 10th-grader Makayla Shelby-Fields said at the celebratory session. “I want to be a lawyer – and maybe have my own business. It has been a great learning experience and helpful to connect with an adult who has been there. It’s been fun.”

Elijah Linke, also a sophomore at Seneca High, said he originally thought joining the program would simply give him a good activity to list on college applications, but, in the end, the rewards went far beyond that for him.

“I learned what it’s like to work as a team and how important that is,” said Elijah, who wants to major in psychology or criminal justice. “This program gave me a better grasp on the future and what the outside world is really like. I learned from someone with real-world experience. It’s been a blast.”

student and mentor looking at paper
Alex Deskins, right, works with Geena Roque during a recent School to Work session at Seneca High School. (Photo by Lisa Huber)

The students were not the only ones learning and gaining new perspectives.

“I also got a unique perspective of the world through the eyes of 16-year-old and realized they are dealing with a different world – via social media and other challenges – than I did,” said Howard. “I went in with the mindset of how I can help mentor and offer insights, and I came away learning so much more from him.”

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