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Let’s Paint: A Primer in Job Readiness

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School days are filled with reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic — all that practical learning kids need to grow up to be successful adults. By the time they graduate, kids are ready to read and complete an application, but much of what they’ll need to get and keep a job is not explicitly in the curriculum.

A new program sponsored by the Capital City Education Alliance is engaging Hartford-area students in repainting their schools. It’s fun, it’s novel, and it’s an opportunity to make new friends. But, at the same time, the program is also teaching them the skills needed to make a great impression on the job.

Kids who want in must interview to join Let’s Paint. “We want to determine their interest and commitment to the program and its values,” says Martha Guidry, executive director, CCEA. No previous painting experience is required, but a willingness to abide by these values is: respect, punctuality, responsibility, teamwork, positive attitude, proper dress, following directions, and a good handshake. [Many of the makings of an admirable employee.]

One middle-schooler, with paint roller in hand, confides that Let’s Paint has helped her to understand how important it is to get along with everyone. Others say they’ve learned the significance of being on time and working as a team. “We want them to attach value to work and to understand what it takes to keep a job,” says Martha.

Kids are expected to set aside their cell phones while painting. “This is key to learning self-control as they start a new job,” says Martha. Turns out, this rule has paid dividends. One student says that working side by side with kids he would normally not speak to has inspired him to start talking and make friends.

Those taking part in Let’s Paint earn points based on their demonstration of workforce readiness skills, such as on-time arrival, proper dress, and ability to greet an outsider. But, what they’ve learned also flows into other aspects of their lives, with schools recording a marked improvement in attendance, behavior, and willingness to volunteer.

One Let’s Paint graduate was hired as a full-time summer-camp counselor. He credits much that he learned for his ability to land the job. Some of it was practical experience, such as completing a W-2, but some was less concrete but oh so valuable. He says that working with adult volunteers boosted his confidence. Of his successful interview he reports, “I was definitely more comfortable talking to people who were older than me, so I wasn’t scared.”