She may have walked the stage to accept her high school diploma last month, but 18-year-old Madelyn Bernard is still spending her days at her alma mater, Walker High School, though she isn’t spending that time in class. Instead, she’s working at the Neighbors Federal Credit Union branch located on campus and collecting a paycheck.
Neighbors Federal Credit Union is one of four businesses operating on the Walker campus and is one of half a dozen local companies that have partnered with the public school, tucked away in a forest of pines in Livingston Parish. Papa John’s Pizza opened on campus last year, along with Walk-On’s Conference Center and Nike goods store, Green & White Cookie Site, which are all employed by students.
The partnerships fall in line with a larger trend of schools, like Cristo Rey Baton Rouge Franciscan High School, providing students real-life business experience before collecting their high school diplomas.
“School is boring to kids and doesn’t relate to the real world,” says Walker High School Principal Jason St. Pierre, who’s headed the school for more than a decade. “I’m trying to make their experience as practical and realistic as possible, and give them real-life experiences while in high school.”
When asked what companies gain from locating to a high school campus, St. Pierre says it’s great product placement, referring to a recent lunch when the school’s football team packed the Papa John’s cafeteria. Also students working at the Green & White Cookie Site, along with designing spirit apparel, also launch marketing campaigns and work to meet sales quotas. The partnerships between Walker High School and area businesses allow those companies to invest in the future workforce, St. Pierre says.
“School is boring to kids and doesn’t relate to the real world. I’m trying to make their experience as practical and realistic as possible, and give them real-life experiences while in high school.”
JASON ST. PIERRE, principal, Walker High School
“We have to nurture students and we have to train them, and (companies) have to have a relationship with those workers, those students, so they’ll become good employees,” St. Pierre says. “We’re for every kid—the kid going to Harvard, the kid going straight to work and every kid in between.”
Besides at Neighbors, Bernard previously worked as a manager of the Green & White Cookie Site where she, along with her staff, were responsible for marketing, supply, designing products and maintaining its online shop. The overall experience at the two on-campus businesses has had a lasting impact on the Walker native, who previously aspired to become a doctor.
“I got to see how a business really works—how to run a store, ordering—and I was really happy doing it,” Bernard says. “I changed my major to business.”
The Neighbors Federal Credit Union branch—open for nearly a decade—allows the credit union to beta-test programs and services for the company, says Steve Webb, the credit union’s president and CEO, and has been worth the roughly $160,000 investment it cost.
“While students previously worked as a cashier in the branch, in the new model we’re asking and expecting a lot more from these student workers,” Webb says. “We want them to be more interactive with customers and develop sales skills. These are skills that can serve them after high school.”
Rising seniors Logan Ruckman and Bryce Wadenpfuhl are two of the roughly 60 students employed by the on-campus businesses. The pair has spent the past six months working at Papa John’s Pizza, located in the school’s old cafeteria, and both say the job was an attractive option because it’s easily accessible being on campus.
“It would have been harder to find a job off campus,” Wadenpfuhl says, flanked by pizza toppings to his right and a pizza dough prepping station to his left.
Eric Collins, one of the managers overseeing the Papa John’s team, says he tries to instill responsibility with the staff, who are also eligible to earn credits towards the school’s Pro-Start Culinary Program, which requires 400 hours of kitchen experience.
“I think the more responsible they are here, the better off they are in their own world,” Collins says, adding they focus on social skills, customer service, active listening and communicating as a team.
Theresa Johnson, team lead at the school Neighbors branch, enjoys working with the students, who are open-minded to learning, and she tries to instill the importance of punctuality and managing responsibilities.
“And I like to get their input on things we can do to bring other students along,” Johnson says, “because when you get older, you can lose track of where the younger generation’s mind is at, what products they’d like, or what they’re looking for in a job or in a credit union.”