"We want them to learn to sustain themselves for a lifetime." That's Derrick Johnson's philosophy as head of Elk Hill's Varina school. Education for Employment, Elk Hill’s donor-funded workforce development program, is key to that vision.
We designed our workforce program to arm kids with the job skills, career planning, industry certifications, and work experience they need to transition successfully into independent adulthood. Almost all the teens in Derrick’s program live in foster care. At 18, they become "emancipated" adults. Without the plans, skills, and experience to find and keep a good job, statistics show that these kids end up adrift: prone to unemployment, welfare dependency, incarceration, and homelessness.
With 98% of Derrick's students facing learning disabilities, EFE's hands-on approach also boosts learning outcomes. "It works because they see immediate success when they turn piece of wood into an Adirondack chair," he says.
Students also learn things you can't find in textbooks. Take how people look at you differently in a shirt and tie - Derrick remembers Brandon, a recent EFE grad, noticing that difference and saying, “I'm going to dress like this more often."
Brandon is now enrolled in a mortuary science program at a local community college. He saw the value of credentialing when EFE certifications helped him find work as a floor tech at a local nursing home, negotiate a 25% wage increase, and then springboard to a higher-paid food service position. Brandon also saw a future for himself as working in in end-of-life care opened his eyes to new possibilities.
In the 2014-15 school year, Derrick is seeking to multiply Brandon's success with the help of a new job placement specialist. The specialist will work to place more teens in off-campus positions matching their skills and interests.