By Heather Algrim
Ingham Academy is a school for high school students on probation in Ingham County. The school has joined with local non-profit Peckham, Inc. that works to support employment for those with barriers to entering the workforce. Ingham Academy students, who have a variety or misdemeanors or felonies, have the opportunity to work at a variety of jobs during half the day of school, while earning high school credit toward their graduation and a paycheck.
Students who are eligible to attend the work-study program fall into two categories. The first group is those who are juniors or seniors on track for graduation. The second group is those who are nearing 18 years old and have earned too few credits to graduate on time. Having the work-study experience is a way for these students to have some positive work-based experience to leave high school with despite not earning a diploma.
The Peckham work-study program begins with the students completing a two week orientation program which familiarizes them with the facility, rules, procedures, and working environment. They also complete tax forms, get assistance in gathering the work-related documents, such as social security cards, and start a local bank account for paycheck depositing. After the orientation is complete, the students interview for a variety of jobs, and then begin their assigned job. The jobs include food service, clerical, internet sales, janitorial, clothing production, farming, and security.
From this point, “Students are imbedded with Peckham workers and managers daily, similar to a regular Peckham employee. Students are exposed to daily goals and output associated with the area they are working, improvement teams, training events, and problem solving”, says Ed Terris, Peckham Director of Manufacturing. The students sometimes struggle with adapting to the work world, and Peckham is there to support them. Terris goes on to say that “Peckham spends a great deal of time and resources trying to help students learn life-value experiences such as maintaining a work schedule, punctuality, how to handle adversity, and adherence to work-life structure.” Along with the support from Peckham, students are supported at the Academy. Terris adds that schools can better prepare students for the world of work “perhaps by educating and bringing awareness to everyday values and an appreciation for valuable every-day life experiences such as the meaning of work, respect, what it means to be successful, and commitment.”
I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the Ingham Academy Peckham work-study students who folds military jackets on the clothing production line. He said that the thing he has learned the most about working at Peckham has to do with communicating effectively with co-workers. “I had to learn how to use sign language to work with my co-workers. My co-workers wear hearing aids and use sign language to communication. Some of my co-workers speak other languages, so you have to try and figure out what they are talking about.” He also views his co-workers as the best part of his job. “You get to have fun with the people you work around. You get to meet a lot of new people, older people. They’re cool. Some of them are funny, some of them are less talkative.”
Terris sums up the greatest strengths of the Ingham Academy students by saying “The students bring much strength to Peckham in the form of creative thinking, familiarity with technology particularly in electronics, mobile devises, personal computing, and internet use. This is not to mention youth and vitality that is often contagious and fun to be around.”