If Benjamin Karni was nervous, he didn’t show it.

Wearing a dark suit, blue tie and dress shoes, he sat upright with hands clasped on a table in the back of the John Adams Middle School library and gave a phenomenal performance.

He made eye contact, spoke clearly and exuded confidence. He nodded and reacted to show he was listening. He was in the moment.

Karni was one of about 340 students participating in exit interviews, a longstanding rite of passage for outgoing JAMS eighth-graders that continued May 20-21.

The annual tradition puts students in short one-on-one meetings with members of the community, who volunteer their time to ask a series of questions while evaluating students’ interview skills.

The process encourages students to reflect on their years in middle school while guiding their transition into high school and beyond, co-organizer Titia Murphy said.

“As students prepare to take the step to the next level, it’s important for them to get skills that will help them on their path,” said Murphy, a social studies teacher at JAMS.

Students spend ample time preparing for their interviews, which touch on Common Core standards in speaking and listening.

They formulate answers to a list of about a dozen questions that they receive in advance — about their interests, influences, experiences at JAMS and advice for other students.

They also learn about proper interview techniques in expression, body language and engagement.

Then comes their big day.

Maya Goren made flashcards to practice for her interview, which was facilitated by Santa Monica police Officer Scott McGee. She also brought a drug poster she made in science class as an example of her work.

“It was exciting,” she said afterward. “I was a little anxious. But in the future, if I’m applying for a job, I want to make sure I have the skills that I used here.”

The interviewers comprise a diverse cross-section of the community. Among them were district and law enforcement officials as well as bankers, lawyers, parents and representatives from Santa Monica College and RAND Corporation.

“It gives the kids an opportunity to talk to someone outside of school, and it allows the community to know our students,” JAMS community liaison Nancy Gutierrez said.

Added interviewer Claudia Bautista-Nicholas: “I know adults who need to practice these skills.”

Bautista-Nicholas was fulfilling two missions as she conducted interviews in Spanish. While assessing students’ communication abilities, the Santa Monica High School language immersion coordinator was also analyzing their proficiency levels so they can be placed in appropriate classes when they arrive next fall.

Sarah Braff, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, said she enjoyed conducting interviews this year after a long hiatus. The meetings help students think about the future and serve as opportunities for adults to share brief nuggets of advice, she said.

“You really get to see what these kids are becoming,” she said. “I want to see what they’re doing in 10 years.”

Braff’s list of students included Karni, who spoke eloquently about Anne Frank, the dangers of procrastination and a 10,000-word writing sample he recently completed.

At the end of the interview, as Karni shook hands with Braff and walked back to the front of the library, Braff smiled.

“He definitely got the job,” she said.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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