Jacob Wohlers, left, and Bryce LeFevre talk about their experience participating in KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Jacob Wohlers, left, and Bryce LeFevre talk about their experience participating in KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Summer Work Program students celebrated

The program places current KPBSD students with disabilities in local businesses

Students, families and employers gathered in the Soldotna High School library Tuesday afternoon to celebrate this year’s participants in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Summer Work Program. The program places current KPBSD students with disabilities in local businesses to gain supported work experience and other skills.

Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth said Tuesday that the program launched in 2019, but took 2020 off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, more than 25 students applied to participate in the program, which can currently only serve 15 students, Orth said. Those students were placed in nine local businesses throughout the central Kenai Peninsula community.

Tuesday’s celebration featured a buffet-style lunch prepared by program participants, who Orth said were responsible for preparing a grocery list, cooking dishes and then bringing them to the event.

Orth, who is also an intensive needs teacher at Soldotna High School, told attendees Tuesday that every program participant this year reported back with positive experiences. She applauded students’ growth over the course of the program as well as their ability to adapt to whatever work environment they were placed in.

“One of my favorite things about this program is seeing the kids come in, maybe a little bit nervous, maybe unsure — a lot of times, it’s their very first job — and just seeing the confidence that they build throughout the four or five weeks that we do this,” Orth said. “Really, it’s amazing.”

KPBSD Director of Student Support Services Amy Hagen, as well as Assistant Superintendent Kari Dendurent, were also in attendance Tuesday. Hagen said the student assigned to work in the KPBSD district office was “an absolute gem,” and that multiple stakeholders came together this year to make the program valuable for students.

“The logistics around (the program are) so intricate, but the experience will last a lifetime,” Hagen said.

From dusting knickknacks at Bishop’s Attic, to detailing cars at Hutchings Auto Spa, to making food at Yo!Tacos, students shared with attendees their responsibilities within their placements, as well as what they liked and did not like about where they worked. Multiple students thanked their coworkers or employers for their support throughout the summer.

Student Noah Moore, who worked for Alaska State Parks, said he helped park rangers in the field and did not find anything about his placement super challenging.

“My favorite thing was the people I worked with,” Moore said.

Kristian Trozelle, who worked in the KPBSD district office, said his work consisted of “anything (the district) wanted me to do.” Trozelle said he found sitting in one place for a long time the most challenging part of his placement, but that he picked up new skills from the district’s Internet Technology department.

Lydia Hopper worked at Bishop’s Attic and said, among other things, she learned how to use a price gun.

“My favorite thing I liked to do was pricing things,” Hopper said.

Also in attendance Tuesday were Douglas Grzybowski and Erin Martin with the Alaska Department Labor and Workforce Development’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Grzybowski said the KPBSD program “exemplifies” what the division strives to do for Alaska youth, while Martin emphasized the skills students gain through their participation.

“All of you in this program are kind of getting like a jump-start and you’re getting some secrets that a lot of teenagers aren’t getting,” Martin said. “ … These are great tips that you’re learning in a great supportive environment and I think in a lot of ways, you’re going to be a little bit ahead of some of your peers.”

Orth said Tuesday that KPBSD’s Summer Work Program is currently only offered on the central peninsula, but that she eventually wants to expand opportunities to students in Homer and Seward. More information about the district’s Summer Work Program can be found on the district’s website at kpbsd.org.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

KPBSD Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth, left, and KPBSD Director of Student Support Systems Amy Hagen listen to student presentations in the Soldotna High School Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

KPBSD Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth, left, and KPBSD Director of Student Support Systems Amy Hagen listen to student presentations in the Soldotna High School Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Boden White, left, and James Hindman talk about their experience working at Yo!Tacos as part of KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Boden White, left, and James Hindman talk about their experience working at Yo!Tacos as part of KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Corn Braxling talks about his experience participating in KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Corn Braxling talks about his experience participating in KPBSD’s Summer Work Program during a program celebration in the Soldotna High School library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

KPBSD Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth, left, assists Robert Nelson with a presentation in the Soldotna High School Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

KPBSD Summer Work Program Coordinator Olivia Orth, left, assists Robert Nelson with a presentation in the Soldotna High School Library on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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