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Students excel during mock job interviews at Hannah Penn K-8 in York City, Thursday, May 23, 2019. York Dispatch

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Kevin Way walked in with confidence, smartly dressed in a bow tie, slacks and dress shoes as he interviewed for his dream job — a GameStop franchise owner.

A quote from his portfolio read, “Hustle until you no longer have to introduce yourself.”

Michael Thew, a consultant from the Department of Education, was impressed.

Way, an eighth grader, used to have his own company selling gaming accessories, he said, showing a picture of himself with York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.

He wants his business to go worldwide.

“So you are thinking big!” Thew said.

Way was part of a rare opportunity Thursday at Hannah Penn K-8, in the York City School District, where professionals and business leaders staged mock interviews with students. 

Thew was back for his third year, and district human resources specialist Jennifer Dettinger was back for her second.

“It’s just refreshing that they’re looking toward employment, goals and college,” she said.

About 70 eighth graders participated in the program  — an effort by English language arts teacher Janel Sager — sharing portfolios including quotes, Instagram photos, teacher recommendations and short personal essays.

More: York City district aims to recover 75 students with 'aggressive outreach' campaign

Since students are too young to have built up resumes, Sager said, they choose elements that represent their personalities and goals, as well as research into their would-be professions.

For example, an entry-level cook could make $47,000, and the job often requires a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts or another hospitality field, one student wrote.

Participants were judged based on portfolio, interview questions and other factors such as greeting and professional dress. And Sager told interviewers to be gentle but tough, because “some of them — they need to hear it — the real thing,” she said.

"If an employer sees you didn't complete a task, it doesn't look good on their end," said York City School Police Officer Angie Matteo, pointing out a student's missing essay.

Sager said students really value the feedback.

 “To have someone else come in and say it, it reinforces things,” Thew said. “I think it means a lot to them.”

More: Two incumbents voted off York City school board

The process also gave students a chance to flip the script and ask their interviewers about their greatest achievements. Dettinger was able to relate on a personal level, sharing her own story of growing up in the city and becoming the first in her family to go to college.

“I love it because it helps me to get insight into our young people’s thinking,” said school board member Michael Breeland.

Following the feedback, students can improve their portfolios before the end of the year, Sager said, which will help prepare them for Freshman Academy career learning. It sets them apart for jobs, too, she said, noting one past participant was hired from it.

Robert Bernhard, district director of human resources, said the most rewarding thing for him is seeing how far students have come despite “seemingly insurmountable odds.”

The York City School District often has a stigma, he said, but getting to know student backstories through an event like this shows that “our students are every bit as talented, as bright, as driven,” he said.

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