Coquille high school lets teens work outside of class

COQUILLE — School wasn't worth putting in another year to Catlen Corpe a few months ago. Even after a year of catching up on course credits through an alternative program, he decided to take GED courses over the summer and get out early.

Then, he reconsidered and decided that having a high school degree rather than a GED would stand him in better stead when he tries to find work.

Now, through an internship program at Winter Lakes High School, he's chalking up credits and work experience hours.

Two days a week, Corpe does schoolwork from home then works two hours at The Feed Store in Myrtle Point. The other two days, he does his hours at the shop and goes into Coquille for class.

During work, he sweeps floors, carries orders out to vehicles, stocks shelves and does whatever else needs doing.

"There's always something to do," Corpe said.

Owner Jan Klier knew Corpe from when he worked at the store before, and gladly took him on as an intern.

'We need somebody who's personable with our customers," Klier said. Corpe is both personable and good with the heavy lifting, she added.

Corpe is one of nine Winter Lakes High School students who spent several weeks over the fall term in internships.

The out-of-school engagement translates into better in-school engagement, said Tony Jones, Winter Lakes principal.

Eventually, he'd like all of the alternative school's 52 students in several six-week-long internships. More time and supervision are given than with a typical work-experience program, Jones said.

"This is kind of something they have to earn," he said, adding students must exhibit responsibility characteristics and academic achievement.

By the time students finish, they will have work experience to add to resumes and better knowledge in a career field in which they may have been interested.

Students must complete a packet at the end of each internship that requires doing career field research and figuring out where else their new skills might be useful.

'I think all students enjoy the outlet and the sense of accomplishment they get from the internship," Jones said.

Businesses also benefit from the internships and gain workers to help when the economy makes it difficult to pay for extra employees.

At Oregon Help Care, three students have helped enter information into an online database and revamp the filing system, things office manager Jessica Van Zelf said she wouldn't have much time to devote to otherwise. The students also help greet customers.

In return, "we're able to give them a really good resume," Van Zelf said.

The students learn personal skills such as how to firmly shake hands and make eye contact, as well, she said. And they learn from the customers, many of whom are decades older.

Erika Ledezma learns from people younger than her.

A recent Wednesday found the Winter Lakes senior painting Christmas ornaments with children at PlaySpace Childcare in Coquille.

"I love kids. I like spending time with them," Ledezma said.

Ledezma began attending Winter Lakes because she was behind on credits. Now she's on schedule to graduate at the end of this school year.

The internship takes up about 31/2; hours each school day, she said, but she doesn't mind getting up and going to work.

The business owners, Amanda and Kyle Wirebaugh, appreciate the extra help.

"She pretty much does everything that we do," Amanda Wirebaugh said.

While the internship didn't convince her she wants a career in childcare, it has given Ledezma a greater sense of responsibility and confidence, she said.

Wirebaugh agreed, saying Ledezma was shy and hesitant when she first started.

"She's really gotten more outgoing with the kids," Wirebaugh said.

"I know some of the kids we have here adore her," she said.

Ledezma said she doesn't want to leave, and will volunteer her time on Fridays.

The daycare attendees and workers become close from spending so much time together, Wirebaugh said. 'So for her to leave, it's kind of like losing a family member."

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