There is a group of students at Jamestown High School that are making a difference in our community, and they're not only gaining school credit, but a sense of belonging as well.
The Youth Apprenticeship Program at Jamestown High School is a class for juniors and seniors which places the students in work environments throughout the area. In the past, students have been paid through their work location for the six hours a week that they have worked. However, the program has changed recently, in that the students are more like unpaid interns at their job site.
The students in the Youth Apprenticeship Program have a schedule that is unique from their peers not in the program. They attend their regular classes in the morning for the first two blocks of the day. They then have lunch. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the students then report to the Youth Apprenticeship Program classroom, where they learn English from teacher Charlie McKenna, and business and computer classes from teacher Kimberly Sutter.
There is a group of students at Jamestown High School that are making a difference in our community, and they’re not only gaining school credit, but a sense of belonging as well. The Youth Apprenticeship Program at Jamestown High School is a class for juniors and seniors which places the students in work environments throughout the area.
P-J photos by Liz Skoczylas
However, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students report to their job site from noon until 3 p.m., where they complete six hours of work per week. In addition to this, the students are scheduled to work at Jamestown High School's school store, which is open both before and after school.
Working as a teacher is something that did not cross senior Jomar Gomez's mind until recently, when he began working in a kindergarten classroom at Love Elementary School.
"Last year, I worked at City Hall, because I wanted to study law," Jomar said.
However, this year, the schedule for the Youth Apprenticeship Program changed, which caused it to interfere with the schedule of City Hall. So, Jomar had to think about his options for the class, and decided to work with children.
"I'm learning so many things," Jomar said.
Jomar, who speaks primarily Spanish at home with his family, takes his bilingual skills into the classroom. According to Jomar, many of the students in the kindergarten classroom are Spanish-speaking as well.
"I talk in Spanish to the kids that speak Spanish, and then I teach Spanish words to the kids that don't speak it," Jomar said.
Recently, Jomar worked with his teacher to read the same story to their students in both English and Spanish. In addition to this, Jomar often helps teach the kindergarten students letters, numbers, and works one-on-one with students if need be.
"I love the fact that I learn new things every day. I learn about the way they think. Sometimes, I have higher expectations, but I have to remember that they're on a different level. As long as you work at their level, it's going to be just fine," Jomar said.
Jomar came to the United States from Puerto Rico in 2008, knowing only a little bit of English.
"It was hard, because I couldn't interact with other people. I like to talk," Jomar said.
However, Jomar didn't let the language barrier stop him. He was eager to learn, understand, and make friends.
"When I came here, I loved English. I loved learning the language, it didn't take as long as I thought it would to learn the language," Jomar said.
Now, Jomar uses the skills that he learned to help his students learn. He said that being bilingual helps him and his students to have a better understanding of one another and their lessons.
"It's just awesome to speak both languages. I can talk to two different people about the same thing, just in different languages," Jomar said.
SOMEWHERE TO BELONG
Jomar learned about the Youth Apprenticeship Program as a sophomore at the high school, when McKenna came into one of his classes to pitch the program.
"I was in ESL and didn't really understand, so I had to ask the teacher what it was," Jomar said.
According to Ms. Sutter, students are required to apply if they are interested in being a part of the Youth Apprenticeship Program. Additionally, they need to provide recommendations, and a resume, before being interviewed.
Once students are in the program, they are given a job site, based on their interests, and what they would like as a potential job.
The Youth Apprenticeship Program began about 20 years ago, Ms. Sutter said. It began as team teaching with four teachers, but it is now down to two.
"Charlie and I are always working together, mothering and fathering these kids," Ms. Sutter said, stating that the group spends so much time together that they begin to feel like a family, where the students have a sense of belonging.
However, the Youth Apprenticeship Program is so much more than a family for the students. It provides them connections and references far beyond what a normal high school student would have, Ms. Sutter said. Additionally, it provides mentors and role models for the students, who may not have someone else filling that position in their lives.
"To be a good mentor, you need to devote your time to kids," Ms. Sutter said.
The students are learning how to show initiative at their job sites, and showing their employers their eagerness to learn. They are provided with two evaluations a year from their employers. And, they have a monthly check-in with Ms. Sutter and McKenna, in which they answer focus questions, which require the students to look at the purpose of their work.
On top of the class work and site work that the students do, they will be participating in community service projects in the spring, as well.
"We show them how the community helps by giving them jobs, so we ask how we can give back," Ms. Sutter said.
Overall, the program provides many opportunities to students that may not otherwise be highly involved in school. It allows teenagers to have real-life experiences and connections for their futures, and also provides a focus for those interested in additional schooling.
"It has its challenges, but it serves its purpose. It keeps kids interested, it keeps them coming to school," Ms. Sutter said.