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Payoff for Real-life Job Skills: Independence


Senior Claire Trestrail lifted a can of Pringles out of a box and found its place on the grocery shelf. “I’m stocking candy, and peanut butter, and pecans and everything else,” she said.

Beside her, senior Edgar Juarez was busy stocking too. He said he likes helping out.

Senior Claire Trestrail is dressed for the job
Senior Claire Trestrail is dressed for the job

Claire and Edgar, students in the Moderate Cognitively Impaired regional program at Byron Center High School, spend an hour each week working at the Byron Center Walgreens pharmacy. While it’s volunteer, they are getting real experience in the workplace, said teacher Jeremy Zeiler.

The partnership got its start when Zeiler connected with store shift leader Shelly Nousen, a former substitute teacher in his classroom, to create the opportunity. Every six weeks two new students will begin volunteering.

“The biggest thing is getting them out, taking what we talk about in the classroom as far as work skills and applying it in a real setting,” Zeiler said. “(They) get out and really work and deal with a different setting and deal with real products… Our goal as educators is getting them to be successful in a job or community setting.”

Senior Edgar Juarez is ready to work
Senior Edgar Juarez is ready to work

Zeiler’s students, who come from districts including Byron Center, Grandville, Godwin, Godfrey Lee, Kelloggsville and Wyoming, focus on a life skills curriculum, including cooking, laundry and shopping. A requirement is to have a successful community-based work experience.

Zeiler said many students head to post-secondary programs after graduation and work toward getting jobs and living on their own. “We want them to be successful and able to contribute their skills to society.”

They’re off to a good start,” Nousen said. “They do a fantastic job. They come in and they know what they need to do. It’s a win-win for everybody.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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