High schoolers from Kitsap and beyond train for workplace ethics

Students at the first Ethics in the Workplace conference this week had a tough decision and only an hour to make it. Based on one-paragraph biographies of five people, they had to determine which person would be the recipient of a heart transplant and which four would be left to dwindle under their fatal heart disease.

“I think it’s an important exercise, it helps you look at just how easily different factors can sway your decision,” said Kristie Keller, a licensed massage practitioner from Pzazz Salon & Day Spa in Old Town Silverdale.

Keller and more than 30 other local professionals — including engineers, doctors, lawyers, environmentalists, business owners, counselors, real estate brokers, Rotarians, Sheriff’s deputies, military recruiters, and even a comedian — attended the event Tuesday at the Fairgrounds’ Presidents’ Hall in an effort to promote the importance of ethics in the workplace and society. More than 90 juniors and seniors from area school districts attended the inaugural conference.

The students at Keller’s discussion table decided the heart recipient would be 19-year-old David, a college sophomore majoring in philosophy and literature who, they felt, had a lot of potential.

Melissa Brown, a Central Kitsap High senior, Bryan Murphy, a South Kitsap High junior, Patrick Moore, North Kitsap High senior, and Kevin Wyble, North Mason High senior, chose David based on the limited biographical information they had in less than the alloted time for discussion.

The biggest challenge for the group was not to assume anything that was not already known in the information the group had, Keller said.

“That’s how life is, though, there’s lots of ‘what-ifs,’” she added.

Then, also reminiscent of a real-life scenario, the organizers threw a curve ball at the students — psychological reports on each of the five transplant candidates. The new information, challenged many of the groups who had already made their decisions, but not Keller’s group. The four students stood by their original decision.

One lesson Brown learned from her struggle with the transplant dilemma was the importance of keeping discrimination at bay.

“Trying not to judge them on what they do or what they are,” she said was probably the hardest part of the decision process.

After the mock scenario the students tackled, the professionals at each discussion table shared their own, real-life, ethical dilemmas.

Keller said on occasion she has clients who refuse to fill out a medical history questionnaire.

“There are some reasons why we shouldn’t give somebody a massage,” she explained.

Some kidney conditions contra-indicated a massage, Keller added. However, there are clients who haven’t filled out a medical history form or have, but wish to have a massage anyway, despite a condition that renders the service a health risk.

That’s where the challenge comes — from incessant clients.

“When someone’s trying to persuade you and you feel for them and of course you want to make people feel good as a massage therapist,” Keller said.

While the students at her table were deciding whether it would be OK, just this one time, to give a massage to a client whose birthday it is and received a gift certificate to the spa by her husband, but who would be exposed to a health risk because of a medical condition, the students at a table across the hall were discussing a different real-world ethics problem.

Craig Smith came to Ethics in the Workplace as a recruiter from Silverdale’s Army office, but it was his recent experience from the manager training program at Big 5 Sporting Goods that yielded ethical dilemmas the students found more interesting.

Most assistant managers at the chain’s stores are within the 19-23 age bracket and have the keys and responsibility for the whole store. He asked the students at his table to put themselves in an assistant manager’s shoes and think about what they would do if they were closing down the store, counting the money from the till... and needed to borrow a few dollars to put gas in their car in order to get home that evening.

“From what I perceived they learned there’re tough choices to make every day,” Smith said after the conference.

He had previously attended similar ethics workshops at schools in Tacoma and Kent. Moving to the Central Kitsap area only recently he was eager to participate in the area’s first ethics seminar for high school students.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Smith said.

Plans for the conference started a year ago when the West Sound Consortium, a regional partnership consisting of nine school districts, including Central Kitsap schools, West Sound Technical Skills Center and Olympic College, decided to create an event in the likeness of an ethics conference in Saint Martin’s College in Lacey, Wash.

The Saint Martin’s annual event costs $25 per student and $20 per chaperone to attend. Adding in the bus ride to Lacey, the cost of attending the conference was too high for the West Sound schools.

“It was important to us that it wasn’t limited to students who could afford to go,” said Blanche Saladino, an Olympic High School counselor and ethics conference planning committee member.

Saladino got involved with the event because she wanted to help organize a regional career fair. That idea evolved into the Ethics in the Workplace student leadership conference. Fifteen Trojans attended Tuesday’s event. Another six hailed from Klahowya Secondary School.

The committee members are planning to make the free ethics conference an annual event and were collecting feedback from all participants — students, chaperones, professionals, speakers — on how to improve next year’s version.

“Kids tend to get numb hearing from teachers, ‘you’ll run into situations like this ... take math, take English,’” Miles said. “They unfortunately get numb hearing it from parents. Just hearing the same message from another source that consistently makes a difference.

“This is just good practice for kids to realize ‘I’m going to be bumping into ethical dilemmas like these.’”

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