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On the Job and On Their Way

Students Gain Employment Experience Over Summer


Essence Pearson, of Wyoming High School, worked at the Downtown Market this summer

More than 40 students with cognitive or other impairments from districts across Kent ISD’s service area worked at 11 job sites this summer, earning money while learning skills. Coached employment wrapped up its second year this week at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, JW Marriott and the Downtown Market Grand Rapids, plus three area YMCAs and select school buildings.

The students are part of Kent Transition Center and CORE, hands-on learning, career exploration and occupational training programs of Kent ISD. In partnership with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, those who are selected for the eight-week program earn paychecks by working four hours a day, four days a week.

Patrick Fritz, employment manager of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

“We make the experience as real as possible, and it’s amazing to see their growth,” said Michael Spagnuolo, program director. “On day one they introduce themselves to their manager, and by the end of the program they’re ready. This fulfills our long-term vision, which is to secure and maintain employment and to provide opportunities for growth.”

At the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel, Transition Center students have been involved in school-year career exploration in exchange for credit for more than two decades. Former Transition Center students have been employed at the hotel for as many as 21 years.

Emoni Bulloch, of East Kentwood High School, squeezes out cookies in the bakery kitchen of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

“We have Transition Center students who have become supervisors,” said Employment Manager Patrick Fritz. “We’re a great place to work, but we have rules and the work is not easy. So it’s pretty cool when you walk down our halls and see the people who got a chance and made it (and were hired).”

Partnering with the Transitions Center is “one of those things that needs to be a no-brainer for employers,” Fritz said. “I would highly recommend other employers try this.”

CONNECT

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Kent ISD, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio

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