Building a Foundation of Strong Work Ethic: A Community Approach

I work at a regional career and technical education center, C4 Columbus Area Career Connection. Part of my role as team leader is to help sustain, strengthen, and build our business and community partnerships. One initiative we have found successful in building relationships with our community is the work ethic certificate program. Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation began the work ethic certificate program in 2018. At that time, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development offered school districts a chance to apply to the program. After the application was approved, we started to build our advisory board. This is where the community collaboration originated.

What is the work ethic certificate?

The Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate is for high school seniors who demonstrate the work ethic skills of persistence, responsibility, initiative, dependability and efficiency. In addition to these work ethic skills, students also must maintain a 98% attendance rate (which equates to 4 missed days of school per school year), have no more than one disciplinary action, complete six hours of community service and maintain a 2.0 GPA. Students must have signatures from school employees verifying the student has demonstrated those skills throughout the academic school year. When we presented this information to our advisory board members, they suggested we also offer this same opportunity to students in 6th grade, as they transition out of elementary school, as well as 8th grade as they transition out of middle school. The advisory board was essential from the very beginning to provide a vision of what the work ethic program was going to look like in our community.

Creating an advisory board

Knowing what a critical role the advisory board would have in the initial roll out of the program, much thought was given to the composition of that board. We were very intentional in reaching out to our local chamber of commerce, our local city government and economic boards, our state representatives, and several members of our business community and post-secondary educational institutions.  This group has consistently supported the work ethic program in a variety of ways including participating in enrollment presentations in the classroom, offering check points with the students throughout the school year, helping on attendance committees, promoting and marketing the program, and organizing spring recognition events. In addition, our community partners at our local radio stations created and aired advertisements about the work ethic program as well. The initiative of the community to promote the value of work ethic was impactful. The community members are the ones stepping up to the plate to be involved with the schools. The message that this sends to students is powerful: The community supports you, your goals and your accomplishments.

“The message this sends to students, families and businesses is that education and work ethic skills are valued in this community.”

The Mayor’s Work Ethic Certificate

The Columbus Mayor’s Office sponsors the 6th grade work ethic certificate and recognizes every 6th grade student who earned a certificate at a spring luncheon and ceremony. Other advisory board members attend the luncheon as well and give students small gifts and show their support of the students’ accomplishments. In addition, one of our post-secondary partners offers a tablet drawing for every elementary school as a way to recognize the students as well. It is a big event that families attend and an obvious sense of pride is felt during the event. The Mayor’s office purchases the food, organizes the event and is very intentional on recognizing every student. The message this sends to students, families and businesses is that education and work ethic skills are valued in this community.

Mayor's Work Ethic Certificate
Mayor shaking hands with a sixth grade student.
Pictured above: Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop presents a Mayor’s Work Ethic Certificate to a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation sixth grade student.
Families attending Work Ethic event.
Pictured above: The Columbus Foundation for Youth hosts the Mayor’s Luncheon to recognize all 6th graders who earned a Mayor’s Work Ethic Certificate. Families attend the event.

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Work Ethic Certificate

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the 8th grade work ethic certificate. The chamber is involved in recognizing students in the spring with a luncheon as well. As the community representative of several businesses, the chamber invites business members to attend the events as well. When we looked at our student success data, one trend we noticed was that 8th grade students would sign up for certificates, but out of all grade levels (6th and 12th), 8th grade had the lowest percentage of students earning the certificate. Since the chamber sponsors the 8th grade certificate, they decided to make some efforts toward being in the school more and encouraging students to earn the certificate. This year, the Chamber of Commerce visited each middle school and gave candy bars to all of the 8th grade students who had signed up for the certificate. Some of the candy bars had golden wrappers. The students with the golden candy bars received new board games that had been donated by one of the chamber  businesses. This effort was organized by the Chamber and again sends the message to students that the entire community supports the work ethic program.

Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Work Ethic Certificate.
Students at Northside Middle School
Pictured above: Students at Northside Middle School connect with members of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and are encouraged to earn a work ethic certificate.
Students at Central Middle School

Pictured above: Students at Central Middle School connect with Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce members.

President of Commerce and a member of commerce posing with studetns.
Picture above: Cindy Frey, President of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, along with a Chamber of Commerce member, present board games to students.

The Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate

Students in 12th grade in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation, can earn a Governor’s Work Ethic Certificate through the Indiana Department of Education. This is a state level certificate. Our advisory board members are active in the classrooms at the beginning of the year encouraging students to sign up and explaining the importance of a strong work ethic. Videos were created as well to explain the program. One video is aimed towards students and the other is for community members. The school superintendent, business and community partners provided interviews and information about the work ethic certificate in those videos. The advisory board members also created the slogan and the logo for the certificate. The videos are contained in these links: Student Video and Community Video.

Certificate of Achievement
“Helping students develop strong work ethic skills is important for the entire community.”

The Takeaway

If you are considering implementing a work ethic certificate program within your school or district, it will be essential to have community buy-in and support. For the program to be more impactful, the community members should collaborate with the schools and be part of the design and implementation of the program. To get started, here are some tips:

  1. Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce. They represent the many businesses within a community and will be able to connect you with employers that are interested in supporting education.
  2. Connect with your city government, officials and economic boards. The city government is an often untapped community partner. However, having the support of the Mayor and the city officials gives a lot of validity to the program. The city also brings in support from the police force, fire department, department of public works and others.
  3. Be intentional about building an advisory board and then use them to advise and design. Your board should have a sense of ownership with the program. Allow the board to make decisions about how to implement the program, market the work ethic certificate to students and provide opportunities for the board to interact with students.
  4. Simply ask business and community members that you interact with if you can share information with them about the work ethic certificate. Many community and business partners want to be involved with the schools but aren’t sure how to begin that process.
  5. Take advantage of attending community meetings such as Rotary Club meetings, Chamber Networking events, and other groups to be able to connect to the community and share information about the program.

Helping students develop strong work ethic skills is important for the entire community. Creating a culture of citizens that are dependable, responsible, persistent, efficient and take initiative is going to make the community stronger. The more involved the community is within the schools, the stronger the school becomes as well.

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