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School to Careers program puts Pendleton students in real-life job training

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on May 24, 2017 12:01AM

Last changed on May 24, 2017 10:02PM

Pendleton senior Tommy Alberti cuts the fat off of chicken thighs while working in the kitchen Wednesday at the Prodigal Son Brewery in Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Pendleton senior Tommy Alberti cuts the fat off of chicken thighs while working in the kitchen Wednesday at the Prodigal Son Brewery in Pendleton.

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Pendleton School District budget woes or not, the School to Careers program intends to press on.

A work training program for high school students in the Pendleton School District, School to Careers officials are looking toward outside grants to continue operations.

School to Careers was established a year ago through a $390,745 career technical education grant from the state to the school district. The district used the grant to contract with Eastern Oregon Business Source and hire a program coordinator.

The program aimed to hone students’ professional skills by placing them at internships and job shadows at local businesses.

At a recent presentation to the Pendleton School Board, Susan Bower, the president of Eastern Oregon Business Source and the project manager for School to Career, and program coordinator Christina van der Kamp, shared the results from the program’s first year.

According to their presentation, School to Careers made 43 work placements across 23 work sites, five times more than the year before. Work sites included Wtechlink, Riverside Veterinary Clinic, Interpath Laboratory and the Oregon State Police Crime Lab.

More than 50 businesses and organizations participated in the program in total, whether it was through work placements or the career days tours and panels the program sponsored.

Bower and van der Kamp reported that 100 percent of the businesses who partnered with School to Careers had a positive experience with the program. Students were similarly effusive when surveyed, with 86 percent saying their program experience was positive, the other 14 percent describing it as neutral.

Pendleton High School senior Tommy Alberti was one of the participants in the School to Careers program, where he did internships in the kitchens at St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton Coffee Bean & Bistro and the Prodigal Son Brewery & Pub.

When he moved from Connecticut to Pendleton in 2009, Alberti described himself as a picky eater before he allowed himself to expand his palate.

“Basically, I couldn’t stop eating after I started,” he said.

His love of food went from eating it to cooking it, and he soon began to dedicate himself to the high school’s culinary program.

Through the School to Careers, Alberti now works at Prodigal Son four days a week for one to two hours per day, preparing soup stalk and salad dressing for the restaurant’s customers.

Although his high school culinary classes have already armed him with the fundamentals needed to do the job, Alberti said the work placements taught him how to adapt to each kitchen’s style and needs.

Working with people he didn’t know also forced him to hone his communication skills, he said.

After he graduates, Alberti plans to attend Blue Mountain Community College before transferring to the Oregon Coast Culinary Institute in Coos Bay.

Alberti said his longterm dream is to work in a professional kitchen and attend Johnson & Wales University, a Providence, Rhode Island-based college with a renowned culinary program.

With the state grant only lasting through June, the original idea behind the School to Careers program was for the Pendleton School District to take over operations at the start of the next school year.

Speaking from Eastern Oregon Business Source’s downtown office, Bower said it became clear over the winter that the School to Career program needed another year or two as a public-private partnership to succeed.

With the knowledge that the district’s budget situation means it isn’t in a position to fund the program, School to Careers has already applied for eight grants to keep the program running, having already secured a $5,000 grant from Umatilla County.

If they can raise enough money to continue, Bower and van der Kamp have ambitious plans for year two.

Besides expanding the number of businesses and students that participate in the program, the pair wants to create an online system that will connect businesses and students more easily.

Longterm, Bower said School to Careers is looking to demonstrate it can successfully create a workforce pipeline from Pendleton High School, which could lead to business sponsorships.

“This could be largely, if not full, self sustaining,” she said.

According to van der Kamp, a handful of students have already obtained employment through their work placements.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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