“It has opened their eyes about what’s expected in the workforce.”

NORWALK, CT– Students at Briggs Academy had more than one graduation to celebrate this spring. One sunny day in June, 40 teenagers joined thousands of others nationwide in receiving a STRIVE diploma, certifying they have been through a rigorous attitudinal job-readiness class and are ready to work.

Career Resources Inc. is the non-profit operating STRIVE in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. For adults, it’s a full-time, three-week course that for years yields very high job placement and retention rates. It’s secret is a unique curriculum that engages, challenges and supports students in looking at their own behavior while showing them what employers want and need.

For years CRI has successfully offered a week-long STRIVE program for youth in Norwalk. Bringing the model to Briggs in early 2013 was a natural next step. CRI STRIVE Trainer Kendrick Baker has spent one day each week at Briggs, seeing students in English teacher Michael May’s classes. May’s students – told to report to school in corporate attire: ties, no open-toed shoes – sampled the STRIVE menu of mock interviews, “Handshake 101,” preparing their resumes, and hearing feedback from teachers and their peers.

“It’s not just an academic exercise,” said May. “The kids have been taking it very seriously and seeing the real-world application, especially now that many of them are going off on job interviews.”

One of the last lessons involved students conducting mock interviews with each other in front of the rest of the class. Even fidgety kids quieted down to pay attention. All were invited to provide feedback. Baker took the lead, offering specifics: “I see maturity in the way you carry yourself. “  “I loved it that you took the initiative like that.” Students learned not to sit down before the interviewer does, to look the employer in the eye and offer a firm handshake, to not offer details that are too personal during the interview.

“It’s new for them to look at things from the perspective of the employer,” said May.

Principal Marie Allen agreed. “This is been so positive for the kids,” she said. “It has opened their eyes about what’s expected in the workforce.”

Baker quickly gained the respect of students and staff, May and Allen agreed, and became a valued presence.

“At a schoolwide assembly, we were discussing the use of the N-word, and many students were defending it,” Allen said. “Kendrick stood right up and said, How would this sound to an employer? That was a new perspective and really turned the conversation.

“Kids listen when he tells them to pull up their pants!” she added. “He has really become part of the school community.”

STRIVE operates in 25 locations throughout the US and also in England, Ireland and Israel.  There are no age or income requirements but students must complete an orientation and agree to abide by program rules. In Connecticut the program is offered at no charge to students in Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.