Rigorous Job Corps asks a lot from its students; most make the grade

Jan 28, 2016 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Local leaders who attended a community relations council meeting this month at the Wind River Job Corps say the facility offers a structured environment for all of its students.

"The program seemed to be pretty strict," IDEA Inc. executive director Kevin Kershisnik said. "They had to follow it."

Whether they are learning about welding, accounting, construction or equipment maintenance, Riverton Mayor Lars Baker agreed that Job Corps participants are required to adhere to a relatively regimented daily schedule.

"Probably the biggest thing about Job Corps is discipline," Baker said. "They leave their room at like 6:30 a.m., and they can't go back to the dorm. This is like you're at work. You have to bring your pencil have your stuff. You have to be dressed for the job."

Job Corps community liaison and outreach/admissions and career transition services coordinator Christa Stream said the student work day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m.

When the work day ends, Baker said students have the chance to play games, watch movies and relax with their fellow residents, but they also are responsible for daily chores.

"In every dorm they have some resident manager person there who's saying, 'Here's the work that needs to get done today. Before you go to bed you have to do this ... and when you get it checked off come tell me,'" Baker said.

By about 10 p.m., he said, the students are supposed to be in bed.

"You have to be in the sack, because you have to get up and be ready to go at 6:30 when the cafeteria opens for breakfast," Baker said.

The routine requires students to learn to cooperate with one another, he noted.

"(They) get pushed into social situations," he said. "(There are) four kids in a room, and these are not the people they would have picked. It's not their buddies. Instead of that, they have to live with people and work with other people, participate in stuff with other people. ... They wind up having to teamwork with people they really don't enjoy being around as friends necessarily."

Not ready

Sergio Maldonado, the state's liaison with the Northern Arapaho Tribe, wondered whether some students might have an adverse reaction to immersion in the Job Corps schedule.

"It's a regimented orientation to life, which is good, (but) not everybody is ready to live a disciplined, rigid, regimented lifestyle," he said. "Some people need that, but not everybody is ready."

He said he would be interested to find out how many students enrolled in the program, showed up at the Job Corps, then quit after a certain period of time.

"At what point ... are students exiting?" he asked. "Are they monitoring, seeing trends in why students leave? Are there common variables? ... If they fail there, they go back to their social area really feeling bummed. What are we doing to recapture them?"

He commended the Job Corps for its work with students who respond well to the program, like the student ambassadors who spoke to the community relations council during a meeting this month.

"I'm happy with what's happening," Maldonado said.

Stream said one of the ambassadors had attended a Job Corps program previously. The student told the community relations council that he wasn't ready at that time.

"He's doing really well now and is successful," Stream said.

Baker also thought the student ambassadors seemed to be flourishing. He pointed out that, in a typical high school class, those same students may have been part of the group in the back of the room that didn't participate in the lesson.

"These are people who probably haven't done well in a traditional educational setting," Baker said. "(Now) they're coming across as goal-oriented and focused and working hard."

He added that, though some of the Job Corps students may have struggled in high school, they should not be seen as troubled individuals.

"These are all pretty good kids," Baker said. "They have to work hard to get in."

Clarence Thomas, who runs three separate juvenile services programs on the Wind River Indian Reservation, said some students find the admissions process almost too rigorous.

"It just takes a little longer, and sometimes that's frustrating," he said. "But we're getting it done. We're slowly processing some of them through in the sense of helping them understand what they need to do to work with Job Corps."

He said it's important to support students through recruitment and enrollment so they don't get frustrated and drop out before they've even been accepted.

"We had several that just didn't like how long it took, and so they decided to do something else," Thomas said.

Maldonado said the application process needs to be user friendly.

"(Otherwise) you're going to turn away a number of students who could've seriously benefited from the experience," he said.

According to Stream, however, the application hurdles help prepare attendees to meet requirements once they get to the center.

"This helps them to understand the expectations and what is going to happen once they arrive, so most of the people who attend Job Corps, continue with Job Corps," she said.

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