A young work force helps out

School's Job Squad gives fifth-graders a chance to learn responsibility and serve others

September 24, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Each day after school, fifth-grader Nicole Eppig heads to a kindergarten classroom at Prospect Mill Elementary School, where she helps 5-year-old Victoria Lioi load her backpack and put on her pink jacket.

Then she takes Victoria by the hand and walks her to the school bus she rides home.

It's a job Nicole says is well suited for her.

"I've always loved working around children, and now I get to do that every day," said the 10-year-old Bel Air resident.

Nicole is one of more than 160 fifth-graders participating in the Job Squad, a community service project that is part of the school's character education program. The participants fill out job applications, get a recommendation from an adult and undergo an interview and training.

"We started the Job Squad because we saw it as a way to connect career development with elementary school," said Cydney Wentsel, superintendent of counseling for county schools for the past 10 years. "It was created to instill the act of giving and to allow older students a chance to be role models for the younger ones."

The program begins at the start of the school year when school counselor Angela Dencler visits the fifth-grade classrooms and describes the jobs available. The pupils fill out a one-page application, specifying the job they want and why. They also must list their qualifications and include a reference from an adult other than a parent.

Jeremy Sturr-Smith's qualifications included a good memory, a clean conduct record and knowledge of school rules. Other pupils listed trustworthiness, punctuality, loyalty, good grades and a love for the school.

The applications and the recommendations are used to help determine job placement.

The jobs range in scope of responsibility.

After-school "bus buddies" such as Nicole are assigned two children from the school's 40 prekindergartners, and about 170 kindergartners.

It isn't always easy, Nicole said.

"When the bell rings, everyone just kind of wants to let loose," she said. "It's hard to keep them under control."

But after the first month, Nicole has discovered a secret to keeping children in line.

"You can't be too harsh, and you can't be too sweet," she said. "And if my children are well-behaved during the week, I give them a sticker on Friday."

Nicole thinks the experience is preparing her for what she said will be her most important job.

"I think learning how to work with kids and how to get them to behave is preparing me for parenthood," she said.

The program also teaches teamwork and time management, said fifth-grade teacher Kathleen Thompson.

"The bus buddies have to pack their own backpacks, walk to the kindergarten classrooms, help two students pack their bags, and then get everyone to their bus on time. It requires that they learn to use their time wisely," Thompson said.

Other jobs include raising and lowering the flags in front of the school; teaching kindergartners how to use the cafeteria; assisting the gym, art, and music teachers in preparing for morning classes; and gathering the lists of absent children and taking them to the office.

Over the past decade, the program has evolved. It started with just a handful of children serving as safety monitors before and after school. The program expanded to include more jobs so that there is a task for any child who wants one, and the application and interview process was added.

The pupils begin preparing for the program in fourth grade, when they list their interests to get a feel for what type of job they might be suited to take on.

"They have to choose whether they would like to work outside, or in an office, with people or alone, and if they want a job that is exciting or calm," Wentsel said.

And, regardless of their performance, the pupils don't get fired from their jobs, said Principal Bud Beehler.

"We go out and ask the teachers if there are any problems or concerns," said Beehler, who is in his eighth year leading the school of more than 1,000 children. "If any of the students are overwhelmed, their job is cut back."

Another component of the program involves community service. "The kids need to learn to give back, and we feel they should start by giving back to each other," Beehler said.

And already the results are showing. Some of the children are finding it socially unacceptable not to participate.

"I really wanted to get one of the jobs," said Brock Blaylock, a 10- year-old fifth-grader from Bel Air, who has flag duties. "I knew my friends would be trying out. And I would have been left out if I didn't have a job."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.