Harlo Theater School-to-Work Group

Harlo Theater School-to-Work Group

(Written June 2005)


The future is in the hands of the next generation. And, that generation has some distinct advantages over previous ones thanks to Mr. Dave Wallace and others like him in the Harlowton School District. Dave is energetic, jovial, and dedicated to real world education and a major asset as we travel through these changing times.
    I happened to take myself to the Harlo Theater on a recent Saturday night. But, the best part of the show was neither the popcorn nor the movies. It was meeting Dave and Jean Wallace. Dave was helping sell tickets and Jean was in charge of the concession stand when I entered.
    Leaving a little early from the movie, I started a conversation with the Wallaces which naturally enough focused on the theater and the high school’s School-to-Work Program. Remembering the way things were in my school days, I was delighted to see young people working with the public and learning how to run a business.
    It didn’t take me long to call Dave for an interview and meet him a few days later in his office at the Harlowton School. One of my first comments was, “It’s great that you’re getting students ‘out there.’”
    “That’s exactly what I do.” Wallace is concerned that the No Child Left Behind Law tends to push teachers to teach for tests. “This might lead to a consequent loss of teaching other aspects that in my estimation children need to know.”
    Mr. Wallace was hired in 1999 by the school district to run the School-to-Work Program. Young people taking ACT tests had commented that they were not given enough career training, “So I was brought in to help kids get out into the world.”
    Wallace’s first order of business was to get the Adopt-A-Business Program going. Each grade school class “adopts” a business for the school year. The business owner comes in to visit with the class on four different occasions and the youngsters learn about how that business runs.
    Next, Dave helped Ester Kalitowski establish a School Store at Hillcrest Elementary. Fifth and sixth graders run the business, buying and selling and manning the store. Last year, they banked $900. Income has been spent on the Missoula Children’s Theater, school playground equipment, and the like.
    Wallace has also promoted the Mini Society program. Teachers and students planned a town with businesses, money and products to sell. This program is not presently active nor is another called Reality Check. The latter was started in Rapelje and involved a curriculum on careers and business for grade schoolers.
    At the 7 to 12 grade level, Mr. Wallace does an annual Career Survey searching for likes and dislikes of young people regarding potential careers. Every two years, the School-to-Work Program sponsors a Real Life Fair for 7th and 8th graders. During a 2-month period of preparation, students are taught budgeting and checkwriting and more. Bill Jones comes in to discuss real estate, Mike Richter talks about loans and debt and Debbie Jones tells about insurance. Fifteen to 20 booths are set up at the fair where youngsters spend money - writing practice checks provided by CNB - and balance their budgets based on their projected incomes. “Kids love it. We need to do it for the seniors.”
    Job Shadowing was introduced during Dave’s tenure with the school. Students from 7th to 10th grade may spend one day per year at local businesses. This has been a popular program. A number of students have gotten career starts with Job Shadowing. Clay Shenk began working with metal at Rocky Mountain Cookware and moved on to gunsmithing in Big Timber and Billings and will soon be expanding his knowledge of the trade in Austria.
    Jessica Wambach began her career in journalism at the Times Clarion through Work-Based Learning (one hour per school day). She went on to be editor of the college newspaper in Missoula and is continuing on to the paper in Spokane, Washington.
    Work-Based Learning provides hands-on experience at 16 different sites in the area. Students journal about their work, give presentations on what they learn and are evaluated by their employers.
    At the 11th and 12th grade levels, students are bussed into Billings two days per year. They job shadow at business locations not available in Wheatland County.
    Mr. Wallace repeatedly affirmed the support that Linda Eklund and Nancy Widdicombe provide through their Business and Communication Arts classes. Mrs. Widdicombe teaches resume writing, proper dress, personal presentation, and interview techniques.
    Dave Wallace keeps promoting even when things go beyond School-to-Work. “I keep plugging every way I can.”
    These days he is cheering for the basic reading program which will be put into motion next school year. “READING FIRST. Hooray!”
    The school administration is implementing 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading every day in the grade schools. At the high school level, students will be reading ten minutes each day in varying class periods during the week.
    There was still more to talk about. Having covered all these areas, Wallace said, “I haven’t mentioned the main thing - which is the theater.”
    In 2000, “We were trying to come up with a work situation that would give many youngsters a real life learning opportunity.” The town sold the theater to the school for $1 and the work began. With grant help from a number of sources and lots of local support, a new roof and ceiling, heating system, doors and screen, and fresh paint put the building back into business.
    The projection booth started with carbon arc lamps but soon moved to xenon bulbs which cost $690 a piece. (Two projectors require two expensive bulbs. They are supposed to last 2000 hours and hopefully will. No guarantees, though.) New audio readers were also required to upgrade sound on the projectors.
    Mission Impossible 2 was the first feature presented in August 2000 and films have been shown nearly every other weekend since. (School plays, Montana Children’s Theater, and touring companies have also used the venue for performances.) Students choose films which are provided through seven major distributors like Sony, New Line, and Warner Brothers. Each film costs $150 to $200 or 35 percent of movie receipts. And that doesn’t count shipping charges.
    Students in grades 7 through 12 (59 are in the program presently) who work at the theater put in their first 25 hours as volunteer service. Thereafter, they work at a rate of $5.15 per hour. That money is bankable towards scholarships after graduation from Harlowton High School. Right now, six seniors are looking at receiving $2000 or more to help with their college expenses.
    Wallace says, “I’ve got more to tell you. I can’t stop. It was wise to keep the theater going. The kids have a real life working and learning experience. They find satisfaction in their involvement at the theater - besides getting to watch current movies.
    “We require the young people to count change back to customers and communicate face-to-face with them. Older students have the option to get into management of the theater. Kayle Michael is the present manager and one of our youngest.”
    In 2002, the School-to-Work program lost its federal/state funding, but the school district chose to keep Dave Wallace on as its School-to-Work and Title I Program Coordinator. Apparently, the title programs can be “Challenging. They really are. But, the people I work with are really great. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
    After a two-hour interview interspersed with breaks for Wallace to watch the hall during class changes, I hadn’t had an opportunity to hear much about Mr. Wallace himself. So, he invited me to join him and Jean for lunch at the Cornerstone. We rode over in their almost new hybrid Toyota Prius which gets better than 50 miles per gallon of gasoline.
    Both Jean and Dave grew up in Billings and attended college there - Jean at Rocky and Dave at EMC. After graduation, they went off to Madhya Pradesh, India, in the Peace Corps. (Madhya Pradesh is the area made famous by Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book.”) Dave and Jean were supposed to work in agriculture and nutrition, but things didn’t exactly work out the way they had been told. They admitted that they learned more than they were able to give to the poorest of the poor in central India. The locals earned about $10 per year and bought not much more than salt and cloth with their money.
    Returning stateside in 1972, the Wallaces moved to the family property west of Ryegate. They eventually bought the land from Dave’s father, improved it and now have horses there. They also have wind and solar power to provide for their electric needs. Dave and Jean obviously are progressive-minded people.
    Mr. Wallace worked for some time on the railroad, hauled hay, and bartended. He has a few stories to tell which contributed to the reputation he acquired in the Ryegate area as a “Master of Judo.”
    In 1974, he was hired in Harlowton as a part time social worker. By ‘78, he was full time director of social work for the six county area.
    In the late 80s, the Wallaces traveled east and landed for several years in Kansas. Dave took his Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Kansas and then worked at the State Correctional Facility in Lansing until 1995.
    One summer after visiting their earth home near Ryegate which they had finished building in 1987, the Wallaces were driving back to Kansas. Dave looked at Jean and said, “Why are we going back there?”
    A year later, they were back home in Montana. Mr. Wallace commuted to Billings for a few years working for Rivendell until his current job opened at the Harlowton School District. Dave has been busy getting the youth of Harlowton “out there” ever since.
    It’s obvious to this observer that the youth of Harlowton have a great advocate and dedicated supporter in Dave Wallace. Mr. Wallace is a real cheerleader for local youngsters: “I’m the promotingest guy you ever met. I promote all the time.” I believe him.
    See you at the Harlo Theater.