Leyden co-op program offers students work experience
Yoana Cortez, a senior at West Leyden plays with Kato Greenbaum at Wonder Works children's museum in Oak Park. Cortez is one of 108 District 212 students who are getting credit for working at area businesses. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:33AM
Ricky Hill, a senior at West Leyden High School, is on his first paid job. He’s motivated.
“I wanted to start adulthood,” Hill said. “I wanted to experience how my dad and my mom work.”
Hill is one of 108 students in Leyden District 212 who takes part in the cooperative education program. The program helps find them jobs in the area for six to 25 hours per week. They also earn school credit.
Through the co-op program, Hill found work in the dining room of Casa San Carlo, a senior home in Northlake. Since November he’s bused tables, cleaned the kitchen and operated the dish machine.
Like adults, students have to go to an interview, although the co-op program trains them in interviewing. Like adults, they get trained on the job.
“My first day after work, I felt tired,” Hill said, though he added he likes the job.
“The old people over there, when I start busing, they’re always telling jokes. Like, ‘Don’t take my cake.’”
Like a job for an adult, the responsibilities keep increasing.
“During training, they told me all the stuff I needed to do,” Hill said. “When I started getting used to it, they told me there was more.”
Also like a job for an adult, there are aspects he doesn’t care for, such as “some co-workers that work slow,” Hill said.
Casa San Carlo has partnered with District 212 for years to employ students, said Giacomo Ferri, director of food services at Casa San Carlo.
“They help us, we help them,” Ferri said. “It helps us to serve residents. We give a chance to young people to start their careers. For many of them, its their first chance to work.
District 212 partners with 51 area businesses.
“Some of them, kids wouldn’t think of applying to them,” said Fran Brady, who coordinates the co-op program. “Chuck King Machining, A-1 Welding. Typically those jobs are held for adults. They like our kids coming in because it gives them an opportunity to find employees for the future.”
Senior Yoana Cortez found work at Wonder Works children’s museum in Oak Park. Like Hill, she was looking to get ahead.
“I was talking to my counselor,” Cortez said. “He was telling me about how college is all about being independent. I wanted to become more independent.”
At Wonder Works, Cortez plays with kids. That includes helping them build toy train tracks, assembling Legos, face painting.
“Oh yeah, it’s what I like to do,” Cortez said. “I like to help out with little kids and stuff.”
Some aspects she didn’t expect.
“I didn’t know there was so much cleaning,” Cortez said. “There’s like 200 kids a day. Daily, the kids are chewing on the toys.”
Jessica Taylor, volunteer coordinator for Wonder Works, said they communicate often with District 212, since Cortez is getting graded. She’s the first West Leyden student to work at the museum through the co-op program, Taylor added.
But the co-op jobs are about more than making money and earning school credit, Brady said.
They can apply what they’ve learned in the real world,” Brady said. “They’re qualities more than skills. Showing up on time, being ready to work, being responsible and being a good team member.”
She adds, “Kids learn in different ways. One way kids learn is doing a job.”
Cortez has learned a couple things that she perhaps didn’t expect.
“There was this lady who had an autistic kid.” Cortez said “She was telling me the trouble she was going through and how it was hard to raise the baby. She has other kids too and it’s hard to balance it out.”
It was eye-opening, she said.
“Having babies is really time consuming,” Cortez said. “You should see the babies crying and all they attention they need. I’m going to wait until I’m 30.”