On Feb. 2, the day Washingtonians turned out by the hundreds of thousands for a rain-soaked Super Bowl victory parade, Robert Proctor Jr. walked from his Anacostia home to Fifth and E streets SW. Mario Johnson spent most of a day's pay taking a taxi there from Spingarn High School.
One way or another, eight other District teen-agers made their way through the rain and crowds to the two-story cinder-block building that is the headquarters of Raven Systems and Research Inc.
They came for the opportunity to learn job skills that will be essential to the computer-based American economy of the future: word processing and micrographic skills required to move information from paper to film storage media and computers that will record, process and manipulate it.
Johnson, Proctor and the others are among 35 District high school seniors whom Raven Systems will train this year in word processing and micrographics. Word processing students are learning to use type-writer-like machines that send information directly into computers; micrographics students learn to operate the cameras and film processors used to transfer paper records to microfilm or microfiche, which last years longer than paper and are much less bulky to store.
Raven Systems, a 12-year-old minority-owned information processing firm that specializes in office automation, software development and computer operations is training the students under a one-year, $103,000 contract from the District's Department of Employment Services (DES).
James Brown, a Raven marketing executive who launched the program, said the students' attendance on Hog Day quelled the few doubts he had about its eventual success. "No one would have blamed them if they'd just gone home and showed up the next day," he said. "Showing up on a miserable day like that one was just fantastic."
"I thought coming to work was more important than cheering for the Redskins," said Johnson, who thought for a moment and added, "I also came because we were being paid."
Every weekday, the students leave school at midday and arrive at Raven's office by 2 p.m. for four hours of skills, attitude, and job search training. They are paid the minimum wage ($3.35 an hour) to participate in the program, which runs 10 or 11 weeks.
The program is an adjunct to the city's once-controversial summer youth employment program, which has provided summer jobs for up to 20,000 youths in the past.
After several difficult years, the summer youth employment program ran smoothly enough in 1982 to receive $500,000 from the federal government, said Darryl Hardy, acting administrator for summer youth employment operations at DES. Hardy's office determined that the money should be used for full-time job training in the private sector, he said.
"Since the jobs are in the private sector, it makes more sense to do the job training there" than in government agencies or community-based organizations, Hardy said.
Students are trained in groups of five. The first five micrographics students graduated from the program on March 18; the first group of word processing trainees will graduate April 1. Five more groups--three in micrographics, two in word processing--will be trained by September.
To date, Hardy said, the program has been an unqualified success. "I think it is going fantastically at this point. We have not yet had anyone leave the program, and they even show up in the rain and snow. In reviewing the progress reports, it appears the youngsters are doing very well."
Hardy's bullishness is shared by Brown and other Raven employes.
"Personally, I think it's been superb," said Brown. "Just seeing the growth in these kids is fantastic. One guy who had been very introverted has begun to be a lot more aggressive. One of the girls was very passive, laid back. Now she does a good job of collecting her thoughts and saying what's on her mind. I'm just very pleased."
The DES contract requires Raven to graduate 80 percent of the students who entered the program (28 out of 35) and to find jobs for half of those it graduates. Raven project manager Julia Ruskin said the firm plans to hire at least five of the students, and expects no difficulty in placing the others.
Several students said they have participated in the summer youth employment program in the past, but expect that the skills they have learned at Raven will help them get better jobs than those for which they otherwise would have qualified.
"I never knew how to operate any kinds of machines except Xerox machines before," said Cheryl Brannum, a senior at Dunbar High School who is finishing the word processing program.
"Now we have a basis for our careers," added James Roscoe Simmons Jr. of Cardozo High, who said he hopes to make a career in electronics. Cardozo's Viviene Ramgeet, a word processing trainee, called Raven "a very disciplined, progressive company. There's no fooling around here."
"This gives us a head start, a jump on life," said Proctor.