May 27, 2008

As high school graduation approaches and summer nears, youth across the state will enter the workforce or begin to look for summer jobs. However, some youth are not prepared to enter the workforce or understand the importance of good work ethics. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension agents in three eastern Kentucky counties worked with youth during the winter and spring to help them understand the importance of good work ethics through the Learning Ethics Through Service (LETS) program.

The program began when extension’s East Regional Coordinator Chuck Stamper was a 4H Youth development agent in Floyd County. During a community issues forum, representatives from area chambers of commerce approached him about working with youth to develop good work ethics and workforce preparation.

“The issue kept coming up that we should work with high school students to make ethical decisions in the work place,” he said. “A lot of teens were graduating without a work ethic. They were showing up late to work, and they wanted to start out at higher paying salaries instead of beginning at entry level salaries.”

While the program started with Stamper five years ago, this year LETS received a 4-H Venture Grant that allowed them to start pilot programs in Floyd, Martin and Magoffin counties to expand and polish the program. This fall, the program will be available to counties throughout the state as part of the 4-H Workforce Preparation curriculum.

In Floyd County, Heather Nelson, 4H Youth development agent, partnered with the Floyd County Chamber of Commerce to give youth a service learning experience in a career field of their choice. Participating youth were high school seniors at Betsy Layne or Prestonsburg high schools and had to receive recommendations from three of their teachers attesting to their attendance, grades and work ethic in the classroom. Youth that were selected attended a daylong orientation session, where different speakers from the community discussed ethics as they related to the community, education and the workplace. They also learned about interviews, proper interview attire and resume writing

Youth researched careers and picked a field that interested them. They then were partnered with businesses in the county and completed volunteer hours with the organization. Nelson said most students chose to volunteer with the school system, hospital, animal shelter, veterinarians or physical therapy offices.

In addition to helping better the community, youth got a chance to explore career options before they enter the workforce.

“It gave them a chance to volunteer in a field that they may want to work in the future,” she said. “They got the chance to get experience in the career field now rather than to go to college, graduate and not like it.”

A similar service learning program was already offered to seniors at Sheldon Clark High School in Martin County so Joe Maynard, Martin County 4H Youth development agent, partnered with the high school to offer the LETS program to those students enrolled in the class as an additional service learning opportunity. Youth in Martin County completed their service learning hours by volunteering at banks, schools, law firms, the community center and various other organizations.

To complete the program, youth had to accumulate at least 16 points from the beginning of January to the end of March. These came from service learning hours, good school attendance, behavior and a teacher evaluation.

In Floyd County, 36 youth completed the program. They were rewarded with a certificate, medal and a book by John C. Maxwell titled “Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success.” Several youth in the program went above and beyond the necessary criteria. Eight of them were honored at the Floyd County Chamber of Commerce’s banquet for completing more than 100 hours of community service.

In Martin County, 15 youth completed the program. They will also receive a certificate and medal and be recognized at banquets at the high school and the county extension office.

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