by Ken McLemore
HOPE – Twenty-one Hope High School junior and senior students took a real life first step through the Hope Public Schools Bobcats Work program April 1 as they interviewed for potential employment internships with 16 local businesses.
Participating businesses were represented during the morning-long “speed interview” session at Hempstead Hall on the University of Arkansas-Hope campus facilitated by HPS Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Crossley in conjunction with the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp.
“We are excited about the partnership between the business community and HPS,” Dr. Crossley said. “Of the 23 students in the program, 16 were offered positions on site, and all 23 will be placed within the next week.”
“Bobcats Work” is a junior and senior level high school employment skills development and experience partnership placing eligible Hope High School students directly into the local workforce. Participating businesses and industry in Hope provide paid or unpaid positions for students to acquire skills and gain work experience to become productive post-graduation employees of their partner business or industry.
The program also segues into the partnership between the HPS and the University of Arkansas-Hope in the Hope Collegiate Academy and the Career and Technical Center at UAH.
Crossley said the “speed interview” session provided a positive start to the program.
“The positive energy and collaboration were palpable during the event,” he said. “I am proud of our HPS students, HPS staff and the Hope business community. Together we can achieve more than any of us could achieve individually.”
Participating employers included the HCEDC, UAHT, HPS, Hempstead Hall, Rainbow of Challenges, Pafford Medical Services, Express Employment Services, Hope Water and Light Commission, City of Hope, SWARKToday, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, Hebrews 11:1, Southern Bakeries, the Hempstead County Extension Office, and Hope Auto Co.
Each student was given an opportunity to interview with employers of their choice in the morning session of timed “speed interviews” and to make contacts with remaining employers in the afternoon session.
The Bobcats Work program was developed in 2020 by the HPS in partnership with Hope Auto Ford and GM dealer principal/general manager Chuck Eldridge of Palestine, Texas, who is also owner and dealer principal/general manager of Palestine Toyota.
However, the onset of COVID-19 delayed the implementation of the program in Hope.
Eldridge said during the April 1 event he was pleased with the local response.
“Our first class in Palestine will graduate in May,” Eldridge said. “We are hiring two from that program full time now who started with us part-time four years ago.”
Eldridge has emphasized the local benefit of an internship program since his introduction of the Palestine model in 2020.
“One of the things we want to see today is young people staying in their hometown,” he said.