Local students urged to excel ethically

Local attorney Craig Thompson had no algebra problems in store for the students in Paige Chapman's math class at Vermillion High School.

The topic he brought to the high schoolers Monday was ethics, and the young people who listened to Thompson soon learned that coming up with the right answer in some situations can be more difficult that solving a complex equation.

"As a lawyer, I am kind of lucky because we get a book that has all of the rules of ethics in it," he said. "Some people, in their jobs or professions, will have written rules, but not everyone does."

Ethics, Thompson explained to the class, is the principle of right and wrong that is accepted by individuals, groups or professions.

"You all have your own set of values, but they don't necessarily match each other," he said. "Values are the fundamental belief that drives behavior and decision-making. Whatever your values are drives you to do the things you do."

Thompson, joined by 14 other executive-level members of the Vermillion community, volunteered their time to present the Junior Achievement Excelling through Ethics program aimed at teaching Vermillion High School students the importance of ethics in the workplace.

The program was presented to all local high school students Monday, thanks to a $25,000 sponsorship from the Walmart Foundation.

"We want students to understand the importance of ethics, not only in the workplace when they have a full-time job, but also in life, with their families and their friends and different situations that might happen to them," said Kayla Bickett, Junior Achievement district director from Sioux Falls.

Monday's program came about to meet a goal set by the state board of Junior Achievement to work with high school students.

"Excelling through Ethics was a really good choice for us because it allowed us to come into the high school for a one-hour, one-time event, and work with our students to let them know how to make the right decision and do the right thing, even when people aren't looking," Bickett said.

According to a 2009 survey conducted by JA Worldwide and Deloitte, "Nearly half (49 percent) of [teens] who say they are ethically prepared [for the workplace] believe that lying to parents and guardians is acceptable, and 61 percent have done so in the past year." 

The initiative behind JA Excelling through Ethics is to teach students about ethics; what ethics means, why ethics is important and how ethics can be used for decision-making.

"Everybody has these tough situations that they must encounter," Bickett said, "and we just want our students to do the right thing. We think that will carry on in their futures if they have this education."

Junior Achievement developed the materials presented to Vermillion students by the volunteers. The volunteers underwent a brief review process in advance of Monday's event to become familiar with the content of the program.

"This is the second year of the program being presented in South Dakota communities, so we used a lot of feedback from our past volunteers on things we can change and do better," Bickett said. "We think we have a great curriculum this year, and we heard this (Monday) morning that it worked really well and it got the students engaged."

Junior Achievement is presenting the ethics program to schools in 13 communities across South Dakota.

"We have a two-week blitz that goes across South Dakota, starting today (Monday)," Bickett said. "So during these two week period, we will be holding 12 events across the state, and in April, we will hold one large event."

The volunteers who presented the ethics program at VHS represent a wide cross-section of the Vermillion community. Presenters included professionals, educators, administrators, business people and law enforcement.

"Everybody has a different background, a different story and different experiences, so if we have people from different areas of the community, they all can bring in their personal experiences and things that have happened to them," Bickett said.

She understands that some people may wonder why a school district's teachers weren't called on to present the ethics program.

"We really think it is important for our community members to be role models for our students," Bickett said. "Sometimes we find that students hear things from their parents, and they hear things from their teachers, and their may be some people from the community who says the exact same thing that they've heard twice before, but that time it sinks in because it's a new face, a new person giving them ideas.

"Plus, this allows students to know that there are people from the community that are interested in their education, and value what they are learning," she said. "They know that other people care about them, too."

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