Matt Driscoll

'This isn't all about the money.' Kids dispense wisdom at Puyallup job-skills event

Teaching 9th graders the skills to land a job

For the last 16 years, students at Kalles Jr. High have taken part in the annual Ignite the Future event — which helps 9th graders prepare for landing their first job.
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For the last 16 years, students at Kalles Jr. High have taken part in the annual Ignite the Future event — which helps 9th graders prepare for landing their first job.

Roz Slichko described it as “nerve-racking,” at least at first.

Then it got easier.

Slichko, 15, was one of roughly 300 ninth-graders at Kalles Junior High in Puyallup who took part in last week’s Ignite the Future event.

The idea behind Ignite the Future — now in its 16th year — is to prepare Kalles kids for the real world and the real work of finding a first job. That means resume writing and the ins and outs of what it takes to impress prospective employers.

And, for Slichko, the most intimidating part: a mock interview with a real-life old person.

That’s where I entered the equation. For some reason, the folks at Kalles invited me. I guess I fit the criteria.

So I traveled to Puyallup last Thursday to see what it was all about and get a firsthand look at the next generation. I even mock interviewed a 15-year-old named Jordan, who hopes to work in a fish hatchery someday. (I’d hire her in a heartbeat.)

In all of this, one thing became quickly apparent: For all the grief today’s young people sometimes get, the kids I saw at Kalles were leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at their age. Anyone who knew me at age 15 would surely agree.

The mock interview is what filled Slichko with the most trepidation. In retrospect, she said it’s what she got the most out of.

“It went really well. It was a good experience,” Slichko told me after it was all over. “It gives you a real-life situation of how a job interview would be, and it gets you really prepared for it.”

Technically, Slichko already has a job — she’s a soccer referee. One day she hopes to be an engineer and figures what she learned at Ignite the Future will help.

“The purpose is to give our kids a step up, and an opportunity to learn about their next step after high school — but not educationally, but in the real world,” said Dean Williams, who is now in his 32nd year as a counselor at Kalles Junior High.

“It’s important because it’s the real world, and it’s the next step that they’re going to have,” Williams said. “We want them to be well prepared.”

Williams said most Kalles ninth graders go into the exercise with a healthy dose of skepticism. These are teenagers, after all. It’s to be expected.

“They’re resistant at first when we first start talking about it at the beginning of the school year. But as they get closer and closer, they really step up,” Williams said.

“We’re giving them an opportunity to learn what it takes to get that first job, to hear what people or employers want and then to have that first experience sitting down with an adult and having an interview,” he continued. “And kids are flourishing with that. They really learn a lot.”

For 15-year-old Joshell Flores-Vega, the highlight of the day was not the mock interview but the chance to hear from two area employers and motivational speaker Bobby Miller.

Miller is a Kalles grad who serves as head football coach at Life Christian Academy in Tacoma. He talked about the importance of pursuing your passion and filling the world with love.

For Flores-Vega, the message resonated.

“While here in Ignite the Future we talk more about the business side of things, when we (heard Miller speak), we got once again reminded that … this isn’t all about the money. Do something that you love. Do something that you’ll always enjoy doing in your life,” Flores-Vega said.

“Some people don’t get that choice, but if you have the choice right now, you might as well take it and do something that you love because the entire world will be better.”

Insightful words, especially from a 15-year-old.

If I needed a timely reminder that the kids are all right, Ignite the Future certainly provided it.

Matt Driscoll: 253-597-8657,, @mattsdriscoll