Some students at Harlem High School punch a time clock when they come to class.
Through a transition program, these students are learning not only reading, writing and arithmetic, but also job skills such as interviewing, punctuality and customer service.
Columbia County has 80 businesses and 45 students participating in the transition program, which began about a decade ago, said program coordinator Gail Clubb, a lead teacher for Columbia County Special Services.
Pupils in the program begin their freshman and sophomore years in the classroom learning the basics. They gain on-the-job experience in their junior and senior years, rotating to eight businesses and working four weeks at each site. They don't get paid, but the experience they gain is invaluable, Ms. Clubb said.
"It gives them real-life experience, taking the things they've learned in the classroom and applying it on the job," she said. "They also learn to dress, do interviews, complete job applications - it's a real experience for transitioning out into the job world."
Mechelle Jordan, a spokeswoman for Richmond County schools, said 109 students in the county are involved in the program at about 25 businesses.
"The program is to improve their quality of life and to prepare them for jobs when they graduate," she said. "We traditionally are able to get these students employed."
Juniors and seniors begin their day in class learning personal finance lessons such as how to manage money, how to create a budget and how to save and invest money. The group leaves at about 8:45 a.m. to travel to job sites, where they work until 11:30 a.m.
On the job, students are partnered with another employee and are supervised by a job coach.
Harlem High students are accompanied to the job by instructor Jeromy Williams; the program's paraprofessional, Bernette Johnson; and job trainer Marie Edwards.
After their morning on the job, there is a 15-minute evaluation in which a student's performance is rated on a scale of 0-40. The more points, the faster one can climb the class's imaginary corporate ladder, from unemployment to business owner.
Along the way, they can get promoted or demoted based on the points they earn. And there are rewards and consequences for moving up and down the ladder.
Jostens recently donated name tags, and Mr. Williams is seeking help from local businesses to buy uniforms for the program participants. Maintaining appropriate workplace dress is often the toughest challenge, he said. Even having uniforms will be a learning experience for the students, because they will be required to wash and iron them.
Al Tanksley, a senior, is doing a rotation at Appletree Academy I Child Care Center.
"I've learned to be careful with kids. I know a lot more now about kids than I ever knew," said Al, who likes to play games such as hide-and-go-seek and dance to music with the children at the day care.
He wants to be an auto mechanic when he graduates and one day own a business. After school, he earns a paycheck at Food Lion, where he trained through the transition program last year. He also worked at the Sheraton Hotel and at McDonald's last year.
"I learned how to flip burgers at McDonald's, but I don't think that's a job I would like to have," Al said.
Jan Hughes, the owner and director of Appletree, said she has worked with transition program students from several high schools for the past four years.
"For us it's great," she said. "It gives us extra hands in a classroom of children, where you could always use extra hands."
Many find that they don't want to work in a day care. She said only one transition program student has applied for a job there.
But finding out what they like and what they don't like is part of the learning process, Mr. Williams said.
"It's a great opportunity for them to get some work experience so they can narrow down job opportunities when they graduate," he said. "We've had several kids hired right out of high school."
Sherelle Hill, a senior, is working at Westwood Nursing Home.
"I do activities with them," said Sherelle, who would one day like to be a nurse. "I like helping people and meeting new people. I like to help out if I can."
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.