Posted Date: 09/23/2022
Young students file by her in a single line with wide grins and an occasional hug. It’s the hugs from the students at Atlanta Primary School that help make the job so rewarding for Mystic Baker.
Baker, a 2018 graduate of Atlanta High School, has worked as a custodian at the primary school for about five years. She began the job as part of the Rabbit Ranch program when she was in high school.
Rabbit Ranch is a program that focuses on employability skills and encourages students to be lifelong learners. Becky Hearn, the director, is proud of the success her students have had.
“We want kids to know that they have to work to get places,” Hearn said. “I have high expectations for all of these kids, and they've never let me down once.”
Students begin gaining work experience as high school freshmen doing various jobs around the campus. As juniors and seniors, they can work at the other district’s campuses in wage-earning positions.
Senior Da’Vonne Crocker works a few hours each day in the cafeteria at Atlanta Middle School. Though he has to find time to balance work with school and football practice, he said the skills he’s learning will benefit him after graduation.
“My backup plan is to try to be a chef or a cook one day, so the skills I am gaining will help me do that,” Crocker said.
Mary Lloyd, food service manager at Atlanta Middle School, said the skills learned from working in the kitchen go well beyond washing dishes and mopping floors. One of these skills is stocking the inventory.
“You can have a career in food service,” Lloyd said. “When you graduate, you can get a job as a stocker in any store or any restaurant. You can also get work in warehouses. Everything has a place and an order it goes in. Once you learn it, you can do it and you can make money.”
Lloyd stressed that with experience working in a kitchen, students will always be able to find a job.
“Da’Vonne is going to be good at whatever he sets his mind on doing,” Lloyd said. “It’s like I told him, ‘People all around the world work with food. You can work anywhere with food.”
Head cook Martha Roquemore said having students work in the kitchen not only helps them out, it teaches students soft skills they need to be good employees, such as productivity, being on time, following directions and doing your job efficiently.
“It will teach them how working will be after they graduate from high school or once they graduate from college and get a job,” Roquemore said. “They will know what working is all about.”
Students in Rabbit Ranch also go out into the community to learn and work. VAC Coordinator Pam Shepherd, who works for AISD through the Cass County Shared Services Arrangement, coordinates with local businesses to find employment opportunities for students.
“It’s important to have our students out working and gaining skills to be productive citizens,” Shepherd said. “We want them to participate in the community while learning academic and practical skills.”
Hearn would like businesses to know that students can make valuable employees or volunteers.
“We’re willing to do jobs,” Hearn said. “There are no ends to what these guys can do. Give them a task and they’ll live up to what you expect.”