Working harder and smarter: Work experience helps students explore opportunities

By Willa Simmet 2008

While many high school students predominantly worry about core classes like math, English and chemistry, junior Charles Widen concentrates on career opportunities by driving a forklift.

Widen is involved in the Experience Based Career Education Program at Cedar Falls High School. The program is designed to help special needs juniors and seniors explore various career opportunities and occupations in the community.

“The students have the opportunity to find out about various types of work and actually experience what it would be like to be employed there,” said Jennifer Juhl, a special needs teacher at Cedar Falls High School. “It takes the fear away and helps them to realize that employers are approachable and do want to be used as a resource and help wherever they can.”

Juhl finds out what the students are interested in, finds jobs for them and sends them to various businesses in the area, depending on their interests.

Widen, who has a job at Bob’s Guitars and at a UNI warehouse as a forklift operator, said he used to hate school, but that it’s OK now.

“We are actually doing something instead of sitting at desks learning stuff we will never use,” Widen said.

Widen does everything from filling orders sent from the custodial department at UNI to dusting guitars and answering phones at Bob’s Guitars.

Other employers of students involved in the program include Radio Shack, Iowa Sports Supply, Fareway, East Central Coop, Blessed Beginning, Brookside Veterinary Clinic and Deery Brothers Collision Center.

The juniors involved in the program attend school in the morning. In the afternoon they have a class for 30 minutes before leaving for their jobs.

On a typical day in the class, the students might learn how to use classified ads or concentrate on social skills necessary for future success.

They then commute to their jobs until seventh period, earning credits for work. The employers grade them on their abilities to learn, their attitudes, appearances and abilities to follow directions. Some are paid, but most of the time the juniors are not. The seniors in the program are paid and do not attend class before their jobs.

Glen Hulbert, and employee at Deery Brothers Collision Center, teaches students about work ethics. “They have to be happy doing what they are doing,” Hulbert said.

Hulbert works with the students in the body detail and paint departments at the Collision Center.

“I think it’s a great program,” Hulbert said. “It helps the students realize that there is something out there for everyone. You just have to test the water and find it.”

Juhl said one of her biggest hopes for the students is that they learn to be internally motivated to work and realize that there’s a lot more to work than just making money.

“I tell the students that they need to enjoy and be proud of the career area they choose,” Juhl said. “How one feels about his/her work affects every area of his or her life.”

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