ALEXANDRIA — Senior Christina Bambrough, 17, already has two years of work experience at McDonald’s, but as she progresses to the next level of her work life, she hopes a new perk offered at Alexandria-Monroe Jr.-Sr. High School will help her get ahead.

Starting this school year, students can work their way toward earning a work ethic certificate that district officials hope will help the students get their foot in the door with local businesses. In theory, having the certificate, which will be given to eligible seniors who have a 98% attendance rate, will get them to the head of the line in the hiring process.

“I think that putting people that are respectful and caring for other people at the top is pretty cool because then they can get their reward for that,” Bambrough said. “Jobs don’t only look at your skills. They also look at how you treat your customers.”

Modeled on a similar program in Jeffersonville, the idea for the work ethic certificate grew out of the school district’s attempt a couple of years ago to earn a grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment. The planning process included working with business and community leaders who said there were several things they need in employees that are difficult to find, said Alexandria-Monroe Principal Tom Johns.

“When we did that, employers said they couldn’t find people who could pass a drug test, show up and have soft skills,” he said. “We didn’t get the grant, but we said we would do a lot of stuff we planned from the grant.”

About the same time, the state encouraged schools toward pathways in which students are guided toward college preparation or vocational options in high school at the suggestion of business leaders, Johns said.

“We were doing some things that, coincidentally, the state said we should be doing,” he said.

The program was spearheaded by Alexandria-Monroe teacher Beth Bates, who also oversees student internships.

To earn the certificate, students are given slips they can have signed by teachers when they believe they have earned praise for good behavior. Though the certificate is given at the end of the senior year, Johns said, students are encouraged to work toward it starting in kindergarten.

“We’re trying to make sure it’s not just the seniors that are preparing,” he said.

District officials are working with the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to develop the buy-in and incentives necessary to make the program work as intended, Johns said.

“People are really excited to partner with us,” he said.

Amanda Keegan, seventh grade social studies teacher and a coordinator of the programming leading up to the work ethic certificate, said she believes the work ethic certificate motivates students to come to school.

“I think some of these kids are kids that fall through the cracks,” she said. “I think those kids are more likely to stay connected and involved.”

Some businesses already offer internships to Alexandria-Monroe students, but she would like to see those relationships evolve, Keegan said.

“Every business can be different in terms of what they give to the program,” she said. “It’s just kind of a piece that ties everything up in a nice bow.”

Ashley Olibas, executive director of the Alexandria-Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said she believes the work ethic certificate will be beneficial for students and employers alike.

“It’s providing students with an ability to build connections as well as real life experience and networking.”

Follow Rebecca R. Bibbs on Twitter at @RebeccaB_THB, or call 765-640-4883.

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