ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Never let it be said that it doesn’t pay to go to high school.
The long-term financial benefits of having a high-school education are well documented. But 10 Hillsboro High School seniors are experiencing immediate economic gratification.
The 10 seniors are enrolled this fall in the On-the-Job-Training Course (OJT) at HHS, a year-long class where students learn business basics-and get a paycheck for doing it.
The “classroom” is a local business. Each student reports to work three days a week, which correlates with the high school’s block scheduling. That translates into a minimum of 31/2 hours of work each week.
Unlike an “independent study” arrangement, students are paid for their time on the job-at least minimum wage.
“It’s really a good program,” said Corey Burton, HHS business instructor who directs OJT. “It’s somewhat similar to our independent-study program, but it’s probably organized and monitored much more closely.”
The program was launched four years ago when USD 410 decided to apply for “VE 2” vocational education funding through the Kansas State Department of Education.
Through its VE 2 program, the state offers financial incentives for districts to provide vocational programs that enable students to pursue “high tech, high wage” jobs, said Dale Honeck, HHS principal.
“For all the courses they teach, (teachers) have to write an outline and identify what they’re teaching,” he said. “The key thing is they have to identify what technology they’re using in these classes because the state department is not going to fund a paper-and-pencil class, nor are they going to give you money for introductory classes.”
Funding is available in eight vocational areas, and the application process for each is extensive. Unlike some districts, USD 410 allows teachers such as Burton to take time away from the classroom to complete the paperwork.
As a reward for their diligence, USD 410 allows the teachers-in this case Burton and fellow business instructor Dennis Boldt-to use at their own discretion half of the funding the district receives. The other half goes into USD 410 operations.
Burton and Boldt have received enough funding to replace nearly 40 computers they have in their two classrooms every other year.
“It also allows us to keep up with technology, like with scanners and printers,” Burton said. “This year, to meet the program standards, we had to put 17-inch monitors on every computer in our rooms. So we have 17-inch monitors now.”
Said Honeck: “I think it’s really good because I see these teachers really thinking about (how the money can strengthen their program), and working hard to qualify. They take a lot of pride in what they’re doing, and they’re getting a just reward for being a good teacher.”
Beyond the financial benefit to his program, Burton likes what OJT offers the student.
“The kids really do like the program, especially the ones who are more business minded and are looking to go into that career field,” he said.
“Some of the kids have had real good experiences and some of the kids have had not-so-good experiences-which is OK, too, because they learn things from that.”
It doesn’t hurt student morale to get paid, either.
“It’s actually a recommendation from the state that kids be paid,” Burton said. “They feel that if the employer is paying the student, the employer is going to expect much more out of them than if they’re not paying them.”
Employers can assign the OJT students about any “office-type” task that needs doing. In many cases, those tasks carry significant responsibility.
“I’ve had kids who work in the accounting field keeping the books for businesses,” Burton said. “They’re working for banks, doing teller work. I’ve had workers at industrial places who did the accounts receivable and the accounts payable.”
Students in OJT have been exposed to business practices and training. They must complete at least 21/2 credits within the business curriculum before they can be considered. The school also could require additional criteria, but so far has not done so.
That doesn’t mean students aren’t held to a high standard, though.
“I really stress to my kids going out that they must do a good job for the business,” Burton said. “Because we are a small community, there are a limited number of business opportunities out there for a student to go into.
“We want the employers to be very, very happy with the work that they’re getting from the students. That way in the future, hopefully, they’ll want to work with the program even more.
“When an employer gets a bad taste, or it doesn’t work out well, then there’s a good tendency that we’re going to lose that employer.”
Part of Burton’s job is to find those employers. Each spring he sends out letters inviting businesses to participate during the next school year, then he makes follow-up visits.
In fall, once the OJT students are on the job, Burton’s primary task is to monitor each student’s experience.
“I’m out for official evaluations eight times during the year,” Burton said. “My employers are doing four (formal) evaluations a year.”
The response from students over the past three years has been positive, Burton said. Many have had the opportunity to work for their employer outside the allotted school period.
“A lot of (employers) have hired them outside of hours to do fill-in work when other people are gone because (students) have already been trained to do certain tasks and can jump right in and do them,” Burton said. “I really think this is a good program and we hope to continue it in the future,” he added. “And we’re always looking for new businesses to participate.”
This article first appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of the Hillsboro Free Press Extra. Profiles of the 10 OJT students began in the Sept. 12 issue, which is available on news stands through Thursday afternoon. A year’s charter subscription to the Extra is only $12.