Friday, October 9, 2009

Program offers Traip Students
Career Exploration Choices

By Jim Kanak
Staff Columnist
For the past two years, students at Traip Academy have had an opportunity to explore a variety of career options while also pursuing their academic course work. Known as the Choices program, students can be placed for a few hours a day in one or more of several local businesses that have agreed to participate in the program, offering kids the chance to job shadow and serve internships.
“We match up students in the program with local businesses they may have an interest in,” said Michael Gardner, Traip’s Career Exploration Coordinator. “We look for a good fit that can turn into an internship and last longer with increasing responsibilities.”
Gardner said there are approximately 15 students - both boys and girls - currently in the program. Most students tend to come into the program as sophomores or higher. “It’s open to any student,” he said. “We’re trying to match up kids that really want to do this. If the traditional route in high school isn’t serving you, maybe this (program) serves you better.”
Under the program, students spend mornings in academic coursework, and then in the afternoon focus on career exploration. “The current (placements) are for two to three weeks,” Gardner said. “If the student and business are happy with it, we look to keep it going. If they don’t like it, we ask the students to do some reflection - what didn’t they like and why?”
Representatives of two of the businesses involved, Little Brook Farm of Kittery and the Hissong Group, said they thought the program was outstanding. “It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing so the kids can find out what they want to do in life,” said Holly Piche, owner of Little Brook Farm. “We have had four or five kids. They learn farming and how to care for the animals and do regular barn chores, feeding and cleaning. I would have loved this if they had it when I was in high school.”
Mike Polakewicz, the Human Resource and Safety Manager for Hissong, echoed Piche’s sentiment. “I love this program,” he said. “We have two young men at our site off Route 236 in Eliot where we’re building a concrete batch plant. There are carpenters, mason contractors, people putting up steel, plumbers - a large variety of opportunities for these young men to observe. I told my guys to be very careful. The boys will be doing a helper type arrangement but they’ll have a chance to learn.”
Gardner said the program was the brainchild of Jane Durgin, the Director of Special Services at Traip. “This is her baby,” he said. “She’d like to see it go beyond Traip to other southern Maine services.”
In addition to Little Brook Farm and Hissong, Gardner has recruited Seahill Alpaca Farm of Kittery, Kittery Animal Hospital, Kittery Family Practice, York Hospital, Kittery Estates, Portsmouth Auto Body, and Auto Works of Kittery to participate in the program, offering students a variety of job settings. “Most are glad to help,” said Gardner. “They’re super people. I tell them the kids are serious about learning.”
Polakewicz said he was convinced about the value of the program from the beginning. “When I was in high school, we had co-op, where kids went out and did work a few hours a day. That was a great program back in the 1960s. When I got the call (about this), that’s what I thought back to. I think it’s great.”