School District of Oconee County Summer Youth Employment Program

By Whitney Farmer

The Summer Youth Employment Program returned to the School District of Oconee County this year with an increased enthusiasm after last year’s inaugural run.  Program administrator Stan Glenn said there was never any question as to whether he would apply to reinstate the program this summer.

Hamilton teacher Greg Thrift, who worked with the program the past two summers, agreed. “After last summer, we saw a marked difference in students throughout the year.  Most have improved. Many have thrived.”

Funded through the American Recovery Reinvestment Act, the Summer Youth Employment Program provided 26 students at the Hamilton Career Center in Oconee with practical worksite experience, as well as soft-skills training throughout the eight-week program.  Participants spent mornings going over practical work-readiness skills in classrooms and then were sent off to apply their skills in a real-world setting, earning $7.25 per hour of work experience.

The students performed agricultural work at three farm sites throughout the county, as well as honed their organic gardening skills in Hamilton’s own greenhouse. By building on relationships with farmers and learning a few gardening tricks from last year, Mr. Glenn and his staff were able to allow the students to take on more responsibilities.

“We learned from what we did last year, so this year we decided we wanted our own [pumpkin patch],” said Mr. Glenn.

After planting more than 6000 pumpkin seeds at Oakway Farm last summer, this summer students took over their own patch while developing a relationship with renowned organic landscaper Billy Styles. Mr. Styles expanded their knowledge by showing students how to plant pumpkin seeds using his own organic products.

In addition to the pumpkins, participants performed a variety of tasks, from feeding goats and chickens to harvesting green beans and okra. In each case, the students were able to bring their work home with them – literally.

“We pulled potatoes and got to take them home.  Students got to take home some eggs from the chickens they fed. The kids loved that,” said Mr. Glenn.

Mr. Glenn said he is already planning ahead for next summer. “We will be using some of the produce harvested this summer to sell at a produce stand operated by students,” said Mr. Glenn.  Hamilton Career Center will use this as a fundraising opportunity to start saving funds to invest in the 2011 Summer Youth Employment Program.

“We want this program to continue,” said Mr. Glenn. “We saw a definite difference in students’ attitudes throughout the school year. They had an appreciation for workplace skills. There is a better understanding of what it means to be an employee and what those expectations are.”

Participants were also given a work-readiness skills pre-test at the beginning of the program, and then tested again at the end. Students whose scores went up were given a “bonus” of one-hundred dollars for the improvement.

Mr. Thrift said that the ability to monetarily compensate students for their work is key. “It provides us with a platform to create a workplace environment that’s realistic because they get paid.  This scenario drives it home more effectively.”

The intent of the program, however, is not just to give students extra money for the summer.  Mr. Thrift said there is one main goal he wants students to achieve. “Our hope is that they learn the work and social skills they will need to get and keep jobs.”