A lecture hall at Del Mar College was nearly silent on a recent morning, except for the sound of pieces of paper sliding across desktops.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports almost two dozen students, divided into four groups, frowned in concentration as they tried to form squares from paper cut into different shapes. The twist: They couldn't speak or even signal to their teammates.
The activity, meant to reinforce teamwork and communication skills, was part of a skills training class in the new Emerging Professionals program. Twenty-two incoming high school seniors are taking leadership and business classes during a six-week summer session, and during the school year, they'll leave school early and go to a paid internship, working 15 hours a week.
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The grant-funded program is a partnership between Del Mar College, local employers and Education to Employment Partners, an initiative of the nonprofit Citizens for Educational Excellence. It aims to train local students for career fields that are facing critical shortages in the region, including accounting, hospitality management and business management, program director Robin Ritchey-Roy said.
Organizations offering internships include Valero, LyondellBasell, the city of Corpus Christi, the Port of Corpus Christi and Whataburger.
Those groups are "looking at this as a social responsibility," Ritchey-Roy said. "They recognize that kids need an opportunity to learn, and they're saying, `This is a wonderful way for us to contribute to the community, develop the workforce talent, create a talent pipeline.' "
Four days a week during the summer, students take a Principles of Business class at Del Mar College, as well as a class led by Ritchey-Roy that focuses on teamwork, leadership, organization, time management and critical thinking.
For the "broken squares" activity, each group member was given an envelope containing differently cut pieces of paper. Students laid their pieces on the table and switched them around until they created five equally sized squares.
When one group became the first to finish, the students stepped back, folding their arms in satisfaction. It had been a deceptively simple exercise, said Colton Appleby, a student at Calallen High School.
Some students grew frustrated as their teammates snatched away pieces of paper to complete their own squares. Appleby's group had a different approach.
"If one of us had a piece that the other one needed, we voluntarily gave up our pieces and then tried to find another one to make ours work," said Alexis Villalobos, Appleby's teammate and fellow Calallen student.
In a class discussion reflecting on the activity, Ritchey-Roy asked the students what actions they thought were essential to working together. They answered: keeping a cool head, thinking creatively, being open-minded, paying attention to nonverbal cues.
"This challenge of communication is ongoing," Ritchey-Roy told the class. "Even when we can speak the same language, do we have trouble communicating sometimes to get our points across? There are some key things that you recognize are necessary for cooperative problem-solving."
Students agreed that they were drawn to the program for the opportunity to develop workplace skills, make connections and get some work experience. Nicholas Gonzalez, a student at Collegiate High School, hopes to secure an internship in business management and eventually open a dance studio.
He said he has always liked dance -- right now, his favorite style is hip-hop -- but his passion for it grew after he joined a dance club two years ago.
"That's what really pushed me over the edge -- like, I really want to do this for the rest of my life," Gonzalez said. "At first, whenever I joined this program, I was like, `OK, I'm going to get money,' but now I realize it's more than money. You're getting experience and looking on the inside of the business."