Dothan City Schools are pioneering a program that will help its teenage students in grades 9-12 prepare to be successful adults.
Implemented by the Liberty Learning Foundation, the goal of Citizen Promise is “preparing high school students to be life, career and citizen-ready.”
“We can’t just expect kids to get it on their own,” Dean Mitchell, executive director for the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, said. “We need to show them what is expected of them when they come into the business world. We need to show them what is expected of them to work in a team environment.”
The program has several elements that build on three pillars of learning — character education, financial literacy and career exploration.
Patti Yancey, Liberty Learning Foundation CEO, said that city leaders advocated for the program’s development after seeing the success of its counterparts — the Super Citizen program in K-5 schools and American Character program in 6-8.
“Children from a very early age — they want to please, so when you design a program that gives them life skills, career skills, and the mindfulness to be aware of what’s happening in the community, it puts them on a path, on a trajectory to success,” said Marybeth Maddox, chairman of the chamber. “If you look at the business side — business and industry in our community has a thirst for children and for young people and employees that value those same traits.”
Available for roughly all 2,500 students in grades 9-12, Citizen Promise is meant to complement other programs in its succession designed for a cohort approaching adult life.
Mock interviews, job training workshops, “Adulting Day,” “reality check” events and job fairs will not just teach students, but show them how to use what they’ve learned to be successful in the real world before they begin their path.
“Adulting Day” will teach students basic life skills, such as how to repair drywall, sort laundry, cook noodles, perform CPR, sew a button, change a tire, and other things. Students will be able to choose what they want to learn.
“Reality checks” are life simulation events that will allow a student to pick a career with a corresponding salary and budget that money. Yancey said they will choose a house, car, whether or not they want to have a cellphone, or pets, and other life choices that affect monthly expenses.
“The goal is to start bringing awareness in kind of a steroid-injection way of some of the things we deal with a lot and then we’ll have little pit stops, we call them, so if your third day in, you realize you’re not going to have enough money to get through the week, we’re going to stop and talk about what you’re choices are going to be right now,” Yancey said.
Mitchell said the entire experience will help shape the Wiregrass workforce in coming years.
“It is a tight labor market and unemployment is low,” he said. “We see this as a potential pipeline of employees for our local businesses. The students here today are the workers of tomorrow. We’ve got to do a better job of getting them prepared.”
Currently, there are more than 2,000 job listings in a 15-mile radius of Dothan.
DCS Director of Curriculum Maria Johnson and 7th grade Civics teacher Sam Davis established the first 6-8 program at Beverlye Magnet School, where Johnson was principal.
She attributes the immersive learning experience to the reduction in bad behavior, which is tracked year to year.
“We felt like we saw a change in the student’s level of responsibility and their willingness to help their peers and their interaction with one another,” she said. “Another thing that I saw – it made them more service-minded. It’s really an experience. From that standpoint, it made them more aware of the needs around them and more aware of other’s needs and how they could be part of the solution.”
Citizen Promise is the first of its kind for Alabama, and possibly the nation, Yancey said.
A non-negotiable aspect of the program is that schools, community leaders, and businesses get involved and rally behind the students. Mayor Mark Saliba, representatives from the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, Superintendent Phyllis Edwards, School Board Chairman Mike Schmitz, and several area business leaders have all signed on to be a part of the effort.
There is no financial burden on the school district, but the program needs mentors and volunteers from community leaders in order for the program to function as designed.
“Twenty five-hundred students are going to be impacted,” Mitchell said. “They’re going to have someone be a mentor to them, someone who’s going to stress getting to work on time, being a good employee, being a good citizen, giving back to your community — all the things we know are going to help Dothan be a great place to live and help us continue to get better.”
Scholarships, called Citizen Promise grants, will be administered through the program through community investments to Dothan High School seniors.