Speaking about the much needed Life Skills Program offered through the Payson Center for Success, Jennifer Smith, MHA Foundation’s K-12 leadership development subcommittee chair chats with Payson Center for Success’s Career and Life Skills Program Coordinator, Kadi Tenney.

Smith begins the discussion inquiring about how the program evolved. Tenney explains that four years ago, she was working at Payson High School as a substitute P.E. teacher. She had the skills but not the qualifications to continue on full time as a contracted P.E. teacher, so went on in the interim to speak with Linda Gibson, principal at the Payson Center for Success about a possible position opening up with an exciting new program.

Gibson, and Deb Jones at the Payson Center for Success had developed a program and proposal based around basic life skills. They wanted to help kids develop usable practically applicable knowledge that would translate into a tenable post-graduation, real-world application. Without funding, however, they were at an impasse.

At that point, they approached the MHA Foundation with their idea. “MHA jumped on board quickly.” Tenney explains. MHA secured the funding to make the program a reality. Having the program green-lighted gave the two educators the freedom to choose the program director they wanted. Enter Kadi Tenney.

“I was encouraged to make the program my own,” she beams. Once the bones of the proposal were in place, and the funding to flesh it out came through, Tenney was brought on as the soul of the project, where she was empowered to do what she needed to make the program a holistic success. Building whole, functional adults was her (enormous) task.

Tenney’s vision for the program, currently serving grades 9-12, is to instill basic career and life skills.

She wanted to instill in students “an idea for where they want to end up, and all the steps they need to take in order for them to get there.” she says.

Most come into the program without having thought about either side of that equation, again validating the need for the program to begin with.

“We develop that from the start.” Tenney explains. Communication, empathy, time and stress management are all among topics taught in the program; the intangible things often found to have fallen through the cracks of traditional academic coursework, and truthfully, are somewhat lacking in many young adults of the past decade or two. Tenney states that most adults realize that they learned most of these things “along the way,” but also admits that those adults, looking back in hindsight, can now clearly see that the journey would have been easier for them, had those lessons been taught earlier on. That is the goal of the program: to make such basics of interpersonal skills the building blocks to help shoulder the weight of heavier responsibilities that inevitably lay ahead in life.

Assessing individual strengths and weaknesses are at the heart of the program in year one. They touch on things like job interviewing skills, how to get and keep a job, work ethic, and how to read and understand the numbers on their paycheck stub. Financial literacy is on the syllabus as well. They look at credit versus debit, and things like different types of bank accounts, and even practical hodgepodge type skills like how to iron a shirt.

Students often proclaim things like, “Why hasn’t his class always existed?” a sentiment no doubt echoed by many of their parents, most of whom would have done well to have had this class on their transcripts, themselves. “Everyone needs to know this.” Indeed they do.

“It is fulfilling that we are giving them something that they will immediately start using in their lives.” Tenney says.

“And forever,” Smith adds, “in every situation. That’s so exciting!”

Tenney goes on to explain the program has defined stages. In the first year, it is very much a traditionally academic mode of learning. They have tests, projects, papers, and speeches as they learn the rhyme and rhythm of “life skills;” what they are and what they mean. In year two the students then have the option of going live with job shadow experience. They can choose five or six local businesses and spend a few hours at each, shadowing someone to see if it is something they enjoy, and to see the reality of what those jobs entail. Some of the local businesses who have worked with the program include the hospital, a couple in the construction industry, several retail businesses, Payson Physical Therapy and, Axis Culture Group marketing firm, to name a few. They use the shadowing portion of the program to customize and match students to jobs based on their interests and skills, which helps them to “buy in.” according to Tenney, who says that almost all of the businesses who have been approached to participate have been more than receptive to working with the students in this respect. 

Conflict resolution is another topic heavily featured in the program. She says she is sure to emphasize with students that it is “not if, but when” conflict will arise, gives them the tools for how to react to it. She teaches her students that conflict is inevitable, and dealing constructively and professionally with it is an invaluable skill, one that learned properly, will give them a leg up in all aspects of adult life.

Alongside this vital set of skills, she teaches too, the responsibility of giving back. Peer Counseling is another resource these students are able to participate in, along the lines of not just surviving, but thriving. That message is repeated often, and thriving means doing well enough to give back. Peer Counseling is a tract of training that travels this teaching along its course to that end. Here, a first year of training teaches them the academic fundamentals of mentorship and counseling, with all the basic knowledge and emphasis on servitude and empathy to give them the background to go into year two. At that stage, the students are assigned “little friends” younger students at the middle school, RCMS, or elementary age at JRE. There they develop a bond of mentorship for the year, spending an hour a week together, and developing skills and relationships that benefit both. 

This is the part of the program where the education extends past the immediate and becomes able to cast a wider net, allowing the students to see the bigger picture, and allowing more students to benefit as a result.

“Education opens up doors.” says Tenney. “It just gives you opportunities.”

She concludes with a note of thanks. “I’m really grateful to MHA Foundation for funding our program; for allowing me to do what I do. It is definitely my passion, and I can see a difference every day in the students’ lives as I teach them, so I appreciate it very much.”

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