The value of handshakes and hands-on education

David Haining and student
David Haining teaches Severance High School students business and technology skills they need for the future

No matter the changes in his life and career, David Haining has always been passionate about education and making a difference with Junior Achievement (JA).

Haining went all the way from volunteering with JA at his kids’ elementary school to recently becoming a key JA partner as the Severance High School business teacher. When he graduated high school, Haining was dissuaded from pursuing a career in teaching, so instead he entered the business tech field. Volunteering with JA throughout the years helped him stay connected with his love for teaching. Then after 30 years, he left his job at a tech company, went back to achieve his lifelong dream of being a teacher, and got to experience JA in new and exciting ways.

He first became involved with JA when he founded the parent-teacher organization at Winograd K-8 School in Greeley. They were searching for ways to get families more engaged in the school, and JA programs gave parents and guardians the perfect opportunity to volunteer. Haining presented JA programs to his son and daughter’s classes for many years, and says that volunteering with his kids in the classroom was “always very special.” As his children grew up, teachers from all grade levels consistently invited him back year after year and he continued to make lasting impressions on students.

“Five years after my kids were done with elementary school, one teacher asked me to come back, and she would always have the kids draw thank-you pictures. I always really appreciated going through and seeing those, because sometimes you might not think that you made a difference, but then they have these little pictures of activities we did, like how a coin was passed around the room or something, and you think, ‘Well, maybe they got something out of it!’” Haining says.

After recently becoming a teacher himself, Haining was eager to incorporate JA programs into his own curriculum. His students competed in the JA Stock Market Challenge and also took a field trip to the OtterBox headquarters for the JA Be Entrepreneurial program, where he was struck by one experience in particular. The kids were acting shy and intimidated the Otterbox executive who was their JA volunteer. So the volunteer broke the ice by asking the kids to stand up in a line and taught each student how to shake hands.

“Kids this age, they don’t get experiences like that,” Haining says. “They go into the workforce and it’s an awkward experience with their interviewer if they don’t know how to shake hands. He made them go one by one, gave everyone a critique, and then gave them a coupon for a free OtterBox Case. The kids talked about it for the rest of the semester.”

He continues, “They wrote in their evaluation for the class that their highlight was that JA in a Day, and you know, it’s because they got to experience hands-on learning and see things and hear things from these real people…it really reemphasized the points that I brought up throughout the year.”

Haining was inspired to lead the same hand-shaking exercise in his class the next semester. “The kids who had gone on that JA trip remembered it and talked about exactly why it was important…it really hit home,” he says.

Changing careers later in life has given Haining plenty of valuable wisdom related to work-readiness, one of JA’s core focus areas. When asked about the advice he gives high school kids, Haining tells them, “There’s a difference between a job and a career. It’s one thing to just get money but it’s another thing to have passion around what you do. They need to try to understand what it means to have a career that they really enjoy. Another thing is that they never know where life might take them in the future. I never knew that I was going to become a teacher, so I thought when I graduated college I would never bring out my high school transcripts again. You might have to go find something different in 10 or 15 years and show up with what you did in high school…You never know how the things you’re doing in school are going to transpire later in your life. It does matter.”

His advice for grown-ups? “It takes a community to raise a child, so you know, you could talk about the younger generation and say that they’re not motivated or they’re not this or that, you could try to fix problems after they happen, or you can go in now and try to help. Educators can only do so much, so having real-world experience is just invaluable, and hopefully others will want to volunteer.”