Work Is Still a Good Thing, Yes?

June 17, 2009
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Let’s get this picture straight. Jobs have contracted for 17 straight months, the national unemployment rate has soared to 9.4%, and in California, unemployment is 11%. More than 1.6 million jobs have been shaved from the economy since Congress approved President Obama’s stimulus plan in February.

Restaurants provide many jobs in the local community.

Restaurants provide many jobs in the local community.


To counteract these historic job losses, Obama announced plans this week to tap into the $787 billion stimulus to create jobs for 600,000 people this summer, with 10 major projects to be implemented in the next three months.
Despite the desperate need for jobs, and the accelerated work programs the President is trying to implement, our own Bonita Unified School District this past March decided to cut the one jobs program for students in the district that has shown positive results.
At San Dimas High School, Bob Cates has run the Work Experience program for 19 years helping students both find work and retain their jobs. Through Bob’s vocational education class, junior and senior students can earn vocational educational credits toward graduation (10 are needed to graduate for all students), work up to eight hours a day, (48 hours a week) and work until 12:30 a.m., if needed. Parent approval is required to participate. Without the program, students can work only four hours a day and no later than 10 p.m.
For one, Art Rey, owner of the popular Casa del Rey restaurant in San Dimas, said he’s unable to hire any of Bob’s work experience students if they can’t work more than four hours a day. “It’s just not an efficient way to run a business,” Art told LaVerneOnline. Bob said this same employer attitude prevails across town. Employers need more employee flexibility, not less as they try to cope in this economy.
“By cutting the program, students lose hours, they lose jobs and they lose the means to help support their families,” Bob said.
Now it might not be practical or even wise for a student on a college path to work up to 48 hours a week or even more than four hours a day, but many students in Bob’s Work Experience program contribute to their family’s household income or in some cases might even provide the family’s sole financial support.
Alicia Sambrano, who just graduated from San Dimas High, worked 35 hours a week as a receptionist at a Chino real estate office while attending school. Without the Work Experience program making her eligible for longer work hours, she said she might not have been hired. With her job, she paid for her car, gas, cell phone and helped with her family’s expenses. In the fall, she plans to enroll at Mt. SAC in hopes of becoming a lawyer one day. “The program definitely made me more responsible and more focused, and I was able to help my family,” she said.
As we learned from Bob and other Work Experience veterans, the program isn’t just a check-in, check-out experience for students. Students set and refine their goals with both their instructors and employers, both of whom monitor their progress toward reaching them. Bob visits the students and the employers at the job site. The emphasis is on accountability.
“We’ve established this network … it’s the student, the employer and the work experience teacher all working together,” Bob said. “This way we get more mileage out of the kid than if the student were out there alone.”
In class, it’s about as real world as you can get. Discussions center on resume-writing, interviewing skills, proper business attire, career opportunities, workplace etiquette and a host of money management skills from budgeting and balancing a checkbook to different ways to save and invest. Guest speakers talk about their personal career paths. Bob also monitors his students’ grades and attendance in all their classes so they maintain the right school-work balance.
Luana Adams, a hiring manager at MacDonald’s, said her Work Experience students don’t’ just punch the clock. “We’ve been very pleased with the caliber of students we see with this program,” Adams said. “They’re mature, they’re driven and they’re self-esteem is very high because of all the work they put in. If you take that away from them, they won’t feel that they’re contributing as much and they’ll lose that self-esteem.”
As a partner in the Work Experience program, Adams is dedicated to helping her work-study students to exceed on all fronts. “We don’t overwork them,” she added. “We tell them to go home if they have homework to finish.”
Bob, a math instructor, too, well understands the numbers the District is facing. Told by the state to cut $5 million, the district reviewed every program, even those that have been in the district for 40 plus years, like Work Experience. The intent, Bob explained, was to cut pieces of programs “so we can retain as many teachers as possible. Although, I think maybe what’s good for kids should be a priority as well,” he said.
Each Work Experience class (or section) costs $17,000 to run. There have been two sections at San Dimas High School and two at Bonita High School for a total yearly cost to the District of $68,000. There are typically 25 students per section, although the numbers were down slightly this year because of the economy. Adults have been taking some of the jobs that used to go to students.
LaVerneOnline’s view: $68,000 is kind of a drop in the bucket when you’re looking to cut $5 million. Instead of a wholesale amputation, why not retain at least one section per high school? Or better yet, why doesn’t someone at the district launch a campaign with help from the San Dimas and La Verne Chambers of Commerce and other local businesses, to raise the $68,000? We’re talking about $68,000, not $68 million.
Obama has set the tone and direction. We’re supposed to be listening. We’re supposed to be stimulating job growth, not the throwing a cold blanket over it. Where’s the leadership?
Not everyone’s going to Harvard, but everyone should have the opportunity to work as much as he or she wants!
LaVerneOnline invites alternative points of view on this and other important issues and topics, so that together we may all be better informed to make the right decisions in these time of limited resources.

One Response to “Work Is Still a Good Thing, Yes?”

  1. This is a great article. It’s about time someone stands up for our Vocational Education Programs. Our school districts have too many academicians in administration that have no appreciation for the value of job skills in the curriculum. They look at programs like this as expendable even though they offer an important alternative for many students.

    As a retired secondary school teacher specializing in Vocational Education and Work Experience, I have seen thousands of students gain saleable skills early on through programs like this. They have the means to be self supporting in post-secondary education because they have a good job. Many of my students advanced into store management positions soon after graduation from high school due to their extensive experience while in Work Experience.

    There are many high school students that have completed their academic requirements and, because they are under age 18, need work experience to be able to have a job that offers more hours than what the regular work permit allows. There are some students, due to financial hardships, that are in special programs where they attend school and have full time jobs. This just kicks the opportunity right out from under them.

    This, of course, hurts employers who are willing to provide after school work that may be in excess of 4 hours on a school day or later than 10:00 p.m. Work Experience allows them to schedule extended hours for students under age 18. This, of course, is under the supervision of their Work Experience Education Instructor. The student is required to maintain succesful performance at school to stay in the program. It’s a “win, win” deal for the employers, the school and the students.

    In conjunction with their employment, the students receive what is referred to as “Related Instruction.” This covers many topics such as Labor Laws, Personal Finance, How to be Successful on the Job, to mention a few. All to often, our students are graduating without any preparation to meet the challenges of employment or living skills. This program offers important understanding to meet these challenges.

    I feel the district needs to reinstate these classes. They are low cost in comparison to other courses in the curriculum and high value to the community.

    Marv Weston
    Retired Business Educator
    State President (2001-2002)
    California Business Education Association

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