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Summertime means first time working for area students


High school students Gerardo Garay and Willow Grey-Lughod haven’t exactly spent the summer kicking back and relaxing.

The pair, who attend Kent Transition Center, has been working diligently in a 10-week program through a partnership with Kent ISD and Michigan Rehab Services. They are a part of a 10-person team helping with cleaning and landscaping on the large Kent ISD campus in Northeast Grand Rapids, preparing for the new school year.

Kent Transition Center helps prepare students with learning or other special needs make the transition from school to work and to develop independence.

East Kentwood student Willow Grey-Lughold cleans a chair as part of the Kent ISD Summer Employment Program, which is giving students their first experience in the job world

“We do mostly cleaning and weeding so everything looks respectable,” said Gerardo, entering 12th grade at East Kentwood High School. “This is my first job indeed. Everything is going great so far.

“If anyone is scared of a first job, this is a perfect experience. They help you a lot; there are a lot of nice people.” Gerardo hopes the experience will help further his dream. “After high school, I want to achieve my dream of running my own restaurant in the bakery, with meal prep and cooking.”

Willow said she’s making the most of her summer job too. “We’re learning how to clean stuff that I’ve never done at home,” said Willow, who is entering her senior year at Forest Hills Northern. “We’re learning a whole lot.”

Beyond working on campus, other students are working at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel helping with food preparation, in the laundry room, and most are in their district doing the same types of activities, according to Duane Kiley, principal at the Transition Center.

“It truly gives them something to put on their resume, gives them experience that you can’t get anyplace else,” said Kiley, of the 37 students in the program. “We have kids come back and say they learned a lot about what it’s like to work for somebody, follow directions, show up on time and work with other people. For a lot of them, it’s their first experience getting a paycheck and having direct deposit at a bank.

“And a number of our graduates got hired by the places they worked at in the summer.”

East Kentwood student Willow Grey-Lughold participated in the Kent ISD Summer Employment Program, prepping the campus inside and out for the new school year

Kent Transition Center
All of the students in the Summer Employment Program attend the Kent Transition Center, whose goal is to prepare high school juniors and seniors for employment and a successful, independent future. It offers small classes, hands-on learning and support to give their students what they need for successful learning.

Students can apply what they learn in the classroom through internships at actual job sites where they are mentored by business partners and supported by the Transition Center team. High school credits are earned for these career experiences, which can lead to paid positions for those students who excel.

Real-World Experience with Support

Linda Nawrocki, administrative assistant at the Transition Center, says this summer experience is unique.

“What I think is so great about this program for the kids is that they get this real work experience, but they have this support that you wouldn’t typically get when you’re first hired,” she explained.

Wyoming student Gerardo Garay cleans a chair as part of the Kent ISD Summer Employment Program, which is giving students a first-look at a job

Kiley said the real story is the partnership with Michigan Rehab Services.

“The money that pays these students’ salaries comes from the Michigan Rehab and federal funds,” Kiley said. “We pay 25 percent and MRS pays 75 percent. Each student gets over $1,000 for the 10 weeks.”

Zach Mosher, a supervisor for the summer work program, said it’s a good first experience working with a boss, taking orders, working as a team and following through with a job.

“It’s their first experience in a job atmosphere,” said Mosher, a third-grade teacher at Sandy Hill Elementary in Jenison, where 10 students are employed. “Right now we are prepping a room for the school year; dusting the ceilings, walls, vents and working our way down to the windows, doors and door frames to the floor.

“We have done many rooms throughout campus, including hundreds of lockers. We spend the majority of our time outside doing the grounds; pulling weeds on the sidewalks, curbs and courtyards and trimming branches.”

Mosher has much to say about his workers.

“They sweat and don’t complain; they just do it. And they get so many compliments about their good work. They’re just awesome workers; I’m proud of them. This definitely helps prepare them for the work world.”

Wyoming graduate Brian Calderon takes direction from supervisor Zach Mosher as part of the Kent ISD Summer Employment Program

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.

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