MARQUETTE - Students in the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency Transitions class can be found in many places other than their classroom.
A number of internships have been set up between the class - which is offered to special needs students who have completed their high school course work - and local businesses throughout the area. The students work a few hours once a week at each internship, learning a number of things in the process.
"This year we have a very large class," said Transitions teacher Rayme Martineau. "Out of 22 students that are with me, 21 now have job placements within the community."
Katie Dorony weighs lunch meat as part of her job at the Huron Earth Deli in downtown Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Martineau said the internships are meant to help the students learn skills that go beyond the workplace.
"It's more of those life-skills, like being dependable, reliable, getting along with other people, being able to take criticism from an authority figure - that's a big one - independent skills, taking the bus to get there and back" she said. "That's probably more important than the actual work skills that they're getting at the job site."
Program coordinator Kelly Johnson-Sager said providing the internships to the students often boosts their confidence, as they go through the typical process of applying for the job, then being interviewed and ultimately, hired.
"I've seen a boost in their confidence, once they get through that initial uncomfortable, you can tell, they feel better about themselves," Johnson-Sager said. "It's like 'I got this job and I interviewed against other people and they picked me,' so there's that sense of pride."
Megan Wisniewski, 18, works at the NMU library as well as the Norlite Nursing Center. She said she enjoys her work with the seniors at the center and hopes to one day enjoy a career in the nursing field by becoming a Certified Nursing Assistance.
"I like socializing with the people. I like hearing their stories from their past," Wisniewski said. "My future goal is to become a CNA. I really like being with people. I like helping them. I like knowing that I've accomplished something that is really difficult for some of these people and I helped them with that."
Ashley Pineno-Heikkila, 18, can be found at the Northern Michigan University library on Friday mornings and at The Pet Stop on Wednesday mornings.
She said she enjoys interacting with people and looks forward to talking with them at work.
"In high school, it was kind of just the teachers and the students," she said. "You couldn't really meet new people. But now that I'm in two different job places, I get to communicate with different types of people."
Huron Earth Deli is one of many business that participates in the program. Owner Jill Meehleder currently has Katie Dorony, 21, interning for her on Wednesday mornings. Dorony helps prepare food, weigh lunch meat and clean in the kitchen.
Dorony said she's learned how to schedule her time much better because of her position at the deli.
"(I've learned) how to follow directions really well, and being quick if you have to," Dorony said. "Sometimes there may be a lot of customers."
Business owners participating in the program said the internships provide a stepping stone for special needs people to enter the work force.
"It's a great work-based experience. They're working at a local establishment and getting out into the community," Meehleder said. "I think that's probably the biggest thing, is being socialized within the community. They're a great group of kids and we really like having them around."
Pet Stop owner Pat Kaski echoed Meehleder's words. With four students currently working at The Pet Stop, Kaski currently has more students than ever working for him at once in the 10 years his business has been in the program.
"It's a good program that's beneficial to both parties," Kaski said.
For more information about the internship program, call Johnson-Sager at 226-5175.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.