, Newburyport, MA

January 31, 2012

Whittier Tech students get on-the-job training at school

HAVERHILL — The more than 100 students at Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School who have outside co-op jobs enjoy real-world job experience, a paycheck and only have to come to school every other week for their academic classes. It's a taste of the freedom and independence that is around the corner for them.

But for six seniors who have secured jobs as library aides, technology assistants and cafeteria workers inside Whittier, they have found an ideal situation with co-op placements right at school.

"I was probably more nervous at first," said Shayla Rodgers of Salisbury, who is majoring in telecommunications and works for Whittier's Director of Technology Kevin Williams. "About 10 kids interviewed for the job, and I wasn't sure I could do it. But, Mr. Williams has been pretty cool about helping me out when I need it. It's not as hard as I thought."

For John Dushame and Justin Palmer, who are both majoring in culinary arts and work in the school cafeteria during their co-op week, one of the biggest challenges is dealing professionally with their friends when they come through the food line.

"They ask for extras of mac and cheese and tater tots," Palmer said. "We can't do it."

Students from all of the school's 20 majors have been placed in outside co-op jobs so far this year, and more will go out, said vocational technical coordinator Beverly DeSalvo.

"Co-op is in full swing," she said. "All students are assigned to a co-op liaison to work with, in addition to their vocational technical teacher."

Students who are interested in the co-op program should ask their shop teacher to make an appointment for them with their co-op liaison to discuss eligibility, career interests, and to begin the initial paperwork, she said.

Students are out working at Banana Republic, Beckwood Services Inc., Cummings Properties, Deveau Electric, DMS Builders, Ergomet, Jossette Corp., Lakeview House, Little Sprouts, Lowell Electric, Martignetti Enterprises Inc., Maplewood at Amesbury, Opportunity Works, Oxford Place, Palmer Gas — Ermer Oil, Penacook Place, Port Health Care Center, Proctor and Gamble, Provident Bank, Sanborn Electric, Seacoast Volkswagen, TechPrint, TD Bank, Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital, Wm F. Dunn Landscaping and Contracting Inc. and Youngblood Electric

Rodgers said her IT job is the one she was hoping to get. Like all on-campus co-op applicants, she had to interview for the job with school administrators. "There was a job in Salisbury where I live, but I like being able to take the bus in when the weather is bad and being able to see my teachers if I need to make up an assignment during co-op week" she said.

She also gets to share her knowledge with her teachers when they have computer problems. A big part of her job is answering the requests for service that teachers submit.

"It's kind of funny knowing I'm the one going to help them fix it," she said. "Although, they refuse to give me an A in their class for fixing their computers. I've tried that."

Dushame, of Methuen, and Palmer, of Haverhill, start work in the cafeteria at 7:30 a.m. They make pasta salads, load milk into the coolers and cut fruit. At 10:47, they start serving the four lunches.

In addition to his co-op job at Whittier, Palmer also works 20 hours a week as a dietary aide at Amesbury Nursing Home. He said he is happy to be on campus during his co-op week because his teachers are preparing him to take the Servsafe course, which will allow him to take the national certification test.

"It makes it easy," Palmer said. "I don't have to travel anywhere, and I can see my friends, and I'm still getting great job experience."