About 45 people gathered in the Soldotna High School commons last week to celebrate the latest group of students to complete a summer work program offered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. That program, which places students with disabilities in local businesses to gain supported work experience and professional development skills, served 25 students this year.
Program Coordinator Olivia Weagraff, who is also an intensive needs teacher at Soldotna High School, told attendees Thursday that she saw growth in every student who participated in the program this year. The five-week program first launched in 2019, but wasn’t held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Fourteen of you guys finished the program and I’m so impressed with everything that all of you have done,” Weagraff said. “I have seen growth from every single student.”
Weagraff said Thursday that the Summer Work Program this year was also able to serve 11 students at KPBSD’s Marathon School, which serves youth in detention. Those students, Weagraff said, met weekly to review career development lessons and other takeaways shared by the students who were placed in businesses.
“They can utilize all those skills that they were learning with us these last five weeks and bring them to when they get out and get a job,” Weagraff said of students at Marathon.
During Thursday’s celebration, students shared with attendees their experiences working in businesses around the central peninsula, including Promethean Cuisine, Bishop’s Attic, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, the KPBSD district office, the Kenai Library, the Nikiski Senior Center, Yo!Tacos and Todaly Unlimited.
Also in attendance Thursday were KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland, KPBSD Director of Student Support Services Terry Manning and school board members Penny Vadla, Patti Truesdell and Beverley Romanin.
Students were asked to share where they worked, what their responsibilities included, what they found challenging about their job and what they liked about their job.
Ethan Boehme, who worked at Promethean Cuisine alongside fellow student JC Bultsma, said his responsibilities included helping prepare the food truck for the Soldotna Wednesday Market and preparing food. He said one of his favorite parts about working there was getting to take home one meal per shift he worked.
“There are some tasks that are very tedious, such as peeling shrimp for four hours,” Boehme said.
Jaime Bond, who worked at the Nikiski Senior Center with fellow student Russel Grimshaw, said her duties included preparing senior meals.
“I liked everything,” Bond said of the job.
Eli Semararo, who worked at the Kenai Library, said he received a lot of support from library staff during his five weeks in the program. His responsibilities included shelving books, but he said he found having to constantly shelve children’s books was challenging.
“There were always so many of them,” Semararo said.
Weagraff said the program currently only serves students on the central peninsula, but that she’d like to expand it to the communities of Homer and Seward. In order to bring the summer work program to other places, Weagraff said there needs to be interest from at least five students in the area.
More information on KPBSD’s program can be found on the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development website at labor.alaska.gov/dvr/transition/summer-programs.html.