Catholic Schools

Holy Rosary program pushes workplace readiness

A new program at Holy Rosary High is giving students who may not be going to college the skills they need to succeed in the work force after high school graduation.

Last fall, the school implemented the Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES), a yearlong career discernment curriculum that allows students to investigate a variety of occupations using the tools of each trade. Start-up funds were provided by a $25,000 grant from the German Protestant Orphan Asylum Foundation.

“It’s basically to help the children with career and life skills so that if they don’t go to college or to junior college, they know how to hold down a job,” said School Sister of Notre Dame Paulette Tiefenbrunn, principal of Holy Rosary Academy and High, whose campus at Napoleon Avenue and Freret Street serves boys and girls with learning challenges in grades prekindergarten through 12.

“We knew we had children here who probably were not college bound, and we wanted to do something to help them,” Sister Paulette added.

Honing a good work ethic

Currently, seven students – freshmen through seniors – and Holy Rosary’s 15 eighth graders are enrolled in the career-prep program.

“A lot of our kids were graduating and saying, ‘Now what do I do?’” said PAES director Murph Whitman, the school’s geometry, pre-algebra and financial math teacher.

When PAES students enter the Career and Life Skills Center – a second-floor space outfitted with an array of saws, drills, sewing machines and kitchen appliances – they literally “punch in” with a time card as a reminder that they are reporting to “work.”  The students, who work independently for the bulk of their time inside the center, find their daily jobs listed in a work binder and rotate through challenges related to five main career areas.

For example, in the Business/Marketing division, where students practice skills such as alphabetizing, typing, calculator and cash register work, an entry-level job might be to order and divide a set of numbered cards from 1 to 100, while refreshing math concepts such as place value and decimals.

“The jobs increase in complexity,” Whitman explained. “Over time, the student is handling more information to sort and collate, like a secretary would do. They (ultimately) learn to file appropriately and successfully.”

In the Consumer/Service division, Whitman’s students learn food preparation, hand and machine sewing, housekeeping and custodial work, with early jobs including learning how to use a scale to weigh foods. More advanced measuring tasks ask them to tally the prices of various weighted items using a food-price chart.

The PAES curriculum covers three additional areas: Construction/Industrial, providing lessons on the use of wrenches, bolts, screws, nails and saws, parts identification and wood, metal and electrical projects; Computer Technology, covering data entry, word processing, email, information technology, PowerPoint and digital photos; and Processing/Production, encompassing bolt and pipe assembly, peg and thread design, visual perception, paper cutting and analog and digital time.

Incentives built in

Whitman assesses each completed job, as a boss would do in an actual workplace.

“If you don’t succeed (at a job) you do it again,” Whitman said. “Did they need any assistance? How many trials did it take? They have to know that if jobs take too long for them to finish, the boss gets mad and hires somebody else.”

PAES students also discover the bright side of the “time-is-money” philosophy: They earn $8 an hour – non-cash credits that can be spent on items like snacks, school supplies and classroom perks. Whitman gives “pay bonuses” to students who work without distracting others, improve their work speed and report their absences to him in advance of the workday.

New skills paying off

Whitman’s students saw the fruits of their labor pay off in a special way after applying their new construction skills to the building of all types of furniture – chairs, benches, sofas, coffee tables and plant stands – out of cast-off wooden pallets. Models of each were displayed in the Holy Rosary schoolyard during Carnival to drum up orders from pedestrians and those who paid to park in the lot.

“You’re taking kids who have no construction ability and getting them involvedwith it and excited about it,” Whitman said of the pallet-based furniture program. “You’ve got eighth graders who have never touched or even seen a sander before sanding wood. They learn how to paint the right way.”

Sophomore Josh Carruth, a PAES student who aspires to be a welder after high school graduation, said he enjoys cutting wood and piecing it together into something beautiful.

“It takes the stress off the day,” Carruth said. “Some days it gets very stressful at school. I get to the point I want to hit something. When I come here, I can get rid of that energy. You get to do fun stuff.”

Ricky Roth, a Holy Rosary senior, said PAES is getting him ready to “go out into the construction field.”

“I had an advantage before I came to this career center because my family members let me use tools,” Roth said. “Here you get to build pallet furniture – coffee tables, benches, and we’re supposed to be making a swing next.”

Watches confidence grow

Whitman said he enjoys seeing his PAES students, who attend regular classes when they are not in the career center, finally finding a relaxing venue for learning and a program in which they will not be kicked out of school because they can’t maintain grades or manage the load of high school. Some young people will always wrestle with high school, no matter how creative educators get with teaching academics, he said.

“School can become so horrible for them,” Whitman said. “(PAES) kids come in, and instantaneously they’re seeing success. They’re feeling success because the skills start out simple and the challenges build up over time. They see progress,” he said.

“One of the greatest (changes) has been their attitude,” Whitman added. “They want to come to work, they want to be on time – as opposed to ‘I don’t want to go to class.’”

For more information on the PAES program or to inquire about the furniture currently in production, call Holy Rosary High at 482-7173.

Beth Donze can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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