Clay County data busters learn job skills at SJR State
In a class recently taught at St. Johns River State College, 17 Clay County high school students listened intently as SJR State Professor Don Lafond talked about career interview skills. Pairing up, one teen played the interviewer and another the interviewee while others observed until it was their turn to assume one of the interviewing roles. A tone of professionalism filled the air as questions such as "What is your biggest strength? Can you describe a situation in your past where you learned from a mistake? What is the most important thing you are looking for in a job?” and “Why should we hire you?” were asked. The answers were strong and expressed with confidence. Clearly, these students had been absorbing the career-related lessons taught to them during a six-week learning opportunity provided by the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency, Inc.
Established in 1965, NFCAA combats poverty in Northeast Florida by “helping people help themselves to become stable, self-sufficient and contributing members of the community.” As part of NFCAA's signature youth Data Busters summer program, students ages 14-17 get a head start on preparing for the workplace through classroom instruction. Upon acceptance into the program, up to 20 Clay County students learn self-sufficiency while being exposed to college, explained Lekonda Rich, who serves as the liaison between NFCAA and SJR State. “Businesses here in the city also partner with NFCAA to allow the students to work (for wages) in the field of their choice, and St. Johns partners with the classroom side of the process, giving the students skills in computer literacy, resume skills, interviewing and more," she stated.
According to Rich, high school students are accepted into the Data Busters program based on "teacher recommendations, grades, and themselves. They have to complete a questionnaire, sharing their future aspirations and the steps they are currently taking toward their goals. They should strive to show how much they would like to receive this opportunity that is specifically designed to benefit them and their future,” Rich explained.
Alexis Franklin, 15, who attends Fleming Island High School, has found the Data Busters experience to be very helpful. After participating in a mock interview with a Data Busters classmate, 15-year-old Marcus Michael from Orange Park High, Franklin said, “It helped prepare me for a real job and to know what to look for in an interview.” Michael agreed. “It has helped to prepare me for the future. When I go to my first interview, I can now feel prepared and be comfortable," he said. Michael added that confusion about the job-search process has been clarified for him, thanks to the Data Busters program.
But were Franklin, Michael and other Data Busters as confident on the first day of their summer program as they were on the day in which they practiced interviewing skills?
"Initially, the group was apprehensive," said Rich, but Professor Don (Lafond) quickly helped to alleviate their anxiety. "Having a professor such as Professor Don, who’s energetic and open to working with this age group, made them extremely comfortable. They moved from apprehension to achievement. They took everything he was offering and pocketed it. He makes the content so realistic and current for them,” Rich stated.
Lafond, who teaches both Applications Software and Life Skills to SJR State students, said he thoroughly enjoys teaching the Data Busters. “Seven years ago, I was lucky enough to be selected to teach this program, since I already teach in this curriculum,” he said.
In addition to learning career-related skills, Rich is thrilled that the Data Busters also gain exposure to aspects of college life during this summer opportunity. “They get to utilize the classroom, the professor, and the space,” she said with great enthusiasm. During classroom breaks, the students enjoy the recreational side of college by playing games such as ping-pong and pool in the College’s Student Center.
"I believe we all have the same mission for them,” said Rich. “Parents want to see them grow; society wants to see them grow; we all just want to see them grow, and this is a great step in their growth.”
“These students have just been wonderful,” said Lafond. “All of them have an extremely positive attitude. I can really tell that they’re looking to improve themselves, and that’s why they’re in the program. It’s my pleasure to be able to help them attain their goals.”
Clay County high school students Marcus Michael, left, and Alexis Franklin, right, practice job interviewing skills while Johnna Brady observes during a six-week job-skills class at SJR State. The opportunity is provided by the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency’s signature youth Data Busters summer program.
Clay County high school students Marcus Michael, left, and Johnna Brady, right, practice job interviewing skills during a six-week job-skills class at SJR State as part of the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency’s signature youth Data Busters summer program.
Clay County high school students Essence Franklin, left, and Shalandra Lloyd, right, practice job interviewing skills while classmates and SJR State Professor Don Lafond look on during a six-week job-skills class at SJR State. The opportunity is part of the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency’s signature youth Data Busters summer program.
Clay County high school students participate in a six-week job-skills class at SJR State as part of the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency’s signature youth Data Busters summer program.
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