Program helps students hone ‘soft skills’

In a demonstration of his nonverbal communication skills, Jeremiah Wall flashes a peace sign to the crowd after a presentation of the themes of the Scotland County Cooperative Extension Youth Work Readiness Program.

Robert Willis, left, and Jeremiah Wall exchange a handshake after acting out a brief job interview in a presentation of the themes of the Scotland County Cooperative Extension Youth Work Readiness Program.

Members of the Scotland County Cooperative Extension Youth Work Readiness Program after a demonstration of their new skills on Thursday, rear, from left: Jailyn Farmer, Walter Morrison, Jeremiah Wall, and Asjah Swindell, front, from left: Robert Willis, Alexis Locklear, Destiny Nealy, Nazshja Gilchrist, Teleyia Bostic, and Quen Jaymon.

LAURINBURG — A group of 10 middle school students have spent the summer getting a head start on perfecting skills that will one day help them to be valuable employees and top-notch communicators.

Scotland County Cooperative Extension’s Youth Work Readiness Program has guided rising seventh and eighth graders through different modules imparting “soft skills” that, though they often go unnoticed, are vital to interacting with others.

“This program teaches them the soft skills that they need: how to brand themselves, customer interaction, communication, conflict resolution, and managing time,” said program coordinator Dorothy Tyson.

On Thursday, the class put their skills to the test by relaying what they’ve learned in front of more than 50 family members and representatives from the community businesses and organizations that the students will volunteer with in the coming weeks.

“Nonverbal communication deals with body language and facial expressions,” Jeremiah Wall said. “Nonverbal expressions also deal with hand gestures. Successful car dealership salesmen show good eye contact, good body language, and a friendly smile. Car dealerships with salesmen that show no posture and no eye contact don’t get to sell many cars.”

Jailyn Farmer performed an original piece of spoken word poetry on the subject of conflict resolution, creating a mantra for guidance in tense situations.

“Calm down, calm down, breathe in breathe out, chill out chill out, don’t scream don’t shout,” she chanted. That’s what keeping your composure is all about.”

Robert Willis Jr. and Wall ran through a mock job interview, with Willis practicing a 30-second “elevator speech” listing his attributes as a potential employee in an effort to make a good first impression. Walter Morrison and Asjah Swindell played the roles of customer and shoe store salesman, with Morrison posing a sales pitch on a fictional pair of Air Jordans.

Having completed the classroom portion of the program, students will devote 20 to 40 hours volunteering with local businesses and organizations like AT&T, Partners in Ministry, Scotland County Parks and Recreation, Scots for Youth, Hi-Lites, and the Scotland County Arts Council.

“We didn’t give them all the places they wanted; we wanted them to have new experiences, meet new people, and learn new things,” Tyson said.

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

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