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Regular school, meet real world

Kelloggsville — For Kelloggsville High School senior Tyler Breece, the chance to get some work experience already as a high school student is something he really appreciates.

He’s been working at Lacks Enterprises as part of the Kelloggsville’s School to Work program, which began in 2015 under the leadership of then-science teacher John Linker, who now coordinates the program full time.

Tyler is one of 11 students in the program this year, a number that Linker said is slightly below pre-COVID numbers but only by a couple of students. The students, mostly seniors but also a few juniors, are working at five local employers and can earn up to three elective credits for the program.

After just over a month assembling parts from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. every day, Tyler’s assessment of his job was short and sweet.

“So far, so good,” he said with a smile. 

Fellow Kelloggsville senior Lacy Sleet is also part of the program.

Her assignment is a 6:15-8:15 a.m. slot at the district’s Early Childhood Learning Center, where she works with the youngsters there while they wait for the bus to take them to school.

“I watch the kids and create fun projects to do with them or we will play board games until the bus arrives to take them to school,” she said. “It’s basically daycare for kids who have parents that work early in the morning and can’t take them to school.”

Both Tyler and Lacy like the chance to make some money and gain real-world skills.

“The staff I work with are so amazing,” Lacy said. “I want to become an elementary teacher, so this is great training.”

John Linker meets regularly with Kelloggsville’s School to Work students for check-in and debriefing sessions

Desk Corner Start

Tyler hopes to become an auto mechanic after graduation and eventually start his own auto repair shop, and he said the hands-on experience he is gaining at Lacks Enterprises will make a big difference to his future.

“The people I am working with, they helped me learn how to stay focused and do my job the best that I could,” he noted. “And, Mr. Linker, well he helped me a lot.”

Linker appreciates the kind words. He spent 12 years at the high school teaching biology, environmental science and chemistry before transitioning to become the School to Work coordinator four years ago after running it from a corner of his desk for two years before that.

‘My goal has always been to expose students to a world of possible career options, not just a job to make a couple of extra bucks, but a potential career in a field that they are interested in.’

– John Linker, Kelloggsville High School School to Work coordinator

“It started with just a couple of students and a partnership with Mark-Maker Inc., a small shop a few blocks away,” he recalled. “I ran the program on my lunch hour with our high school counselor at the time, Chad Morrow (current Middle School principal). It worked out great for both the business partner and students, so we continued it for another semester before we approached the superintendent with the possibility of expanding the program.”

As the program has grown, so have Linker’s duties.

He stays in constant contact with the supervisors and managers that work with the students, including a weekly check-in email and personal visits every two to three weeks.

Career Options Exposure

Every couple weeks, the group of School to Work students meets together with Linker to discuss what’s happening at work, including both positive and negative experiences.

“It’s just a chance for us to meet as a group, debrief a bit and talk amongst ourselves to share stories and experiences and learn together,” Linker said.

At the end of each marking period, Linker has each supervisor fill out an assessment of each student based upon a grading rubric he has created with business partners covering attributes like communication skills, attendance and the ability to work with others, qualities he said are needed to be a good and productive employee.

“Because the program has been around for a few years now, the cool thing is to see students that were a part of the program, got hired right out of high school and are now progressing in their careers and beginning to move up the ladder,” he said.

The program, Linker said, is pretty much word-of-mouth at Kelloggsville.

“Students approach me with interest in the program,” he said. “We sit down and talk about their career interests. Based off that conversation, I’ll present them with some options, we’ll take a tour of the business they’re interested in and then we have them interview with the business. If all goes well, they enter the program. If not, they may try a different company or stick with a traditional schedule.”

Linker said he works hard to make sure the fit between student and workplace is a good one because he wants every student in the program to be able to envision post-high school possibilities.

“My goal has always been to expose students to a world of possible career options,” he said. “It’s not just a job to make a couple of extra bucks but a potential career in a field that they are interested in.”

Kelloggsville School to Work student Tyler Breece with Lacks Enterprises supervisor Rodney Kosters (courtesy)
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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids, Kelloggsville, is lead reporter for Grand Rapids and also is the point person for the SNN Facebook and Twitter feeds. He hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio

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