State parks provide job training for local high schoolers.

July 27, 2018

State parks provide job training for local high schoolers.

For the sixth consecutive year the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Parks and Recreation Division, Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) and the West Shore Educational Service District (WSESD) have partnered to provide paid job training experiences for students with disabilities.   The project’s long-term goal is to support students with disabilities in obtaining training and employment, so they can develop the skills required to maintain employment as adults, after leaving the educational system.

This partnership between the DNR, MRS and intermediate school districts began in 2013 with five initial state parks, including Ludington State Park as one of the original partners, and has grown from five parks to 47 parks in six years. This year’s statewide project involves just under 300 students employed throughout the state from the Upper Peninsula to the Indiana state line.  Students benefit by developing job skills. State parks benefit from completed jobs that often don’t get done for lack of personnel, and the community benefits from attractive state parks and well-trained, dependable employees who will contribute to the workforce in the future. 

Preparing students for career readiness is an important role of schools, and the West Shore ESD is committed to supporting students, employers and local schools through these types of programs.  Mason County Central High School principal Jeff Tuka praised the project and collaboration. “It is very beneficial for students to learn not only work skills but work ethic and the value of teamwork in the workplace,” he said.  “All of these positive traits are gained and MCC students have benefited from this learning experience since the program’s inception.  We are very excited to keep working with these agencies for the betterment of our students and their futures.“

The ESD maintains an agreement with Michigan Rehabilitation Services to provide employment preparation and support to students after leaving school.  West Shore ESD Transition Coordinator Teresa Root and Michigan Rehabilitation Services counselor Tiffany Schafer work together to develop opportunities for students with disabilities while in school that will carry over as adults. This collaboration also benefits local employers by having individuals that are prepared and eager to work.  This agency connection is vital for students, families and community.

Students work in a group setting with a work site trainer instructing them on successfully learning specific jobs, task completion and employability skills. During the eight-week project, students complete a variety of duties, such as cleaning fire pits, shoveling sand, picking up trash, painting, raking, removing invasive species and re-aligning fencing.  They also practice essential skills required for long term employment, including attendance, dependability, punctuality, attitude, cooperation, problem solving, work ethic and team work.

This year’s local project includes 12 students who are employed and earn $9.25 an hour for eight weeks, June 18 through August 9, 2018. It includes three state parks; Ludington, Charles Mears in Pentwater and Silver Lake near Mears.  Each park has one work site trainer.  This year’s youth workers are students from Ludington High School, Hart High School, Shelby High School, Pentwater High School, Mason County Central High School and the West Shore ESD. 

Hailey Hernandez, a student working at Charles Mears State Park, said this opportunity has helped her gain the confidence to be gainfully employed, “You have to try your best. You might not think you’re good enough but now I know I can learn to be”.

The program’s success is a strong indicator that it will continue to help care for Michigan’s beautiful state parks, while also helping students with disabilities develop valuable work and life skills.

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