An 'ace' in their lives

Moffat County High School students get on-the-job training

When Liz Roberts graduates from Moffat County High School later this month, she knows that next year she wants to begin studying in the field of nursing.

She said she doesn't think she wants to study nursing. She knows.

She knows because she's spent the past year working as a certified nurse assistant at Valley View Manor.

As part of the Ace/Work program at the high school, Roberts goes to work every afternoon at Valley View Manor.

Roberts said she has always wanted to be a nurse, and her desire has been reinforced in the past year.

"Doing this has made me want to be a nurse even more," she said. "I like helping people and there's a great need for nurses in the United States."

Jesse Doolin, who is also a senior at MCHS, plans on attending culinary school in Arizona next summer.

Doolin said he was first turned on to cooking when he took culinary arts as a high school freshman.

Through the Ace/Work program, Doolin also has been able to get first-hand experience in his field of interest by working as a cook at the Holiday Inn.

"I've enjoyed working there," he said. "I think cooking will be a nice field to get in to."

The working class

When one looks around Rose Siminoe's classroom the decor is noticeably different from typical high school adornments.

A sign on one wall reads:

"Warning! If injured on the job, written notice must be given to the employer within four working days pursuant to Section 8-43-102."

Another wall contains several framed picture collages of students stocking shelves, working behind counters, working at constructions sites and cooking meals in restaurant kitchens.

Another poster in the room reads:

"A commitment is a commitment."

Siminoe does not teach a typical high school class.

Instead of breaking down the rules of grammar or teaching students to solve complex mathematical equations, Siminoe, who teaches work classes at MCHS and is the Ace/Work program coordinator, prepares students for the work force.

In her classes, Siminoe teaches students what they need to do when applying for jobs, including how to create a resume and write cover letters. She even brings in local business owners to conduct mock interviews with the students.

Siminoe said students also learn "real world" skills like how to communicate in the work force and how to balance a checkbook.

Juniors and seniors in Siminoe's classes who are on track to complete their core class work then have an opportunity to obtain elective credits by going to jobs in the community during part of the school day.

Most of them go to class at the high school in the morning and spend their afternoons working at a local business.

Beyond the books

Siminoe said the program is in place to cater to the needs of students who don't fit the traditional approach of classroom learning.

Siminoe said schools often try to fit students into a square but many students might be triangles or circles.

"A lot of students don't like school," she said. "They like to work."

For two years Siminoe has been coordinator of the Work/Ace program, which has been in existence in Moffat County for about 20 years.

Right now 43 students participate in the program, she said.

Giving students an opportunity to go out and work allows many students to earn a degree that they might not, she said.

"I most definitely feel there are several students that would not have graduated had they not been involved in the program," she said. "Some students would not still be in this building if it were not for this."

Students work at an array of different businesses in the community including Mountain Man Taxidermy, Trapper Mine, Kmart, Yampa Auto Body and Village Inn.

"The program would not be as successful as it is if it weren't for the businesses in the community," she said. "They have stepped up and taken students under their wings and given them experience and skills they can use."

Siminoe said she strives to match students with businesses in which they are interested.

"A lot of jobs students work at are jobs they might stay at for the rest of their lives," she said. "My goal is to try and get them experience in the occupation they might want to go in to."

But due to a limited amount of businesses in the rural area of Northwest Colorado, Siminoe said she can't always fit students into an area that which they plan on pursuing after high school.

But this is not all bad, she said.

Jeremiah Godfrey, a senior at MCHS, had planned on going to school to become a diesel mechanic until he was placed at a job as a cook along side Doolin at the Holiday Inn.

A glimpse at the future

Godfrey now sees cooking in his future also.

"I had so much fun working there as a cook," he said. "I think I'm going to go to college at Mesa State to become a chef."

Godfrey said the possibilities of where a cook might find employment are endless.

"You can go to work on a ranch, in people's homes, in a restaurant or you can start your own restaurant," he said. "It's harder work than most people think. When it's 100 degrees outside that usually means it's about 130 or 140 degrees working with the food. But it's a fun job to work at."

Even if a student does not one day work full-time in their Ace/Work program area, Siminoe said the students still benefit.

"Even if kids don't end up pursuing careers in the fields they are working in they can still learn skills from employers," she said.

They learn the responsibility of balancing work and school, learn to get to work on time and learn to get along with people whether they are fellow employees or customers, she said.

Siminoe said her goal is to continue to expand the program by finding more businesses where students can work and earn credit.

She said she wants to do so because the program is important, she said.

"School is not what some students want and we have to offer another opportunity to them to get an education so they can be good citizens and have good jobs," she said. "That's why we give them the opportunity to work and earn credit."

Employer rewards

Fred Shaffer, owner of Big O Tire, currently has three students in the Ace/Work program working at his business and has had several students in past years.

"I think it's great," Shaffer said. "I've been doing it about as long as they've had the program."

Shaffer said he likes to see the changes in the students from the first day they step in the garage to the last day they leave.

"A lot of these kids that come in have never had a job before in their lives," he said. "We teach them responsibility, work ethic and a craft. Hopefully we're shaping their lives a little bit."

It has been a rewarding experience for Shaffer, he said.

"I feel like I've raised 20 more kids than just my own," he said. "I sometimes see them come in as bashful and shy and see them leave a lot different. We've had some real good times with the guys we've had work for us over the years. I'm all for

the program."

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