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Working it Out

 


The fifth-graders love Miss Bradbury. She helps them with their reading and penmanship; an exclusive lunch with her is the most coveted prize on their classroom wheel of fortune.

The feeling is mutual. "I really enjoy coming here with the kids," she said, pointing out the candy bouquet they bought her on Thursday. "I don't want to say goodbye to them at the end of the year."

However much HHS senior Christi Bradbury has taught her students since she started visiting them in September, she has learned more from them, and what she has learned was not what she expected.

"After doing Credit for Work I've decided I don't want to be a teacher," she said, quickly adding that it's not the students' fault.

The fifth-graders' full-time teacher, Pam Stenerson, is at school by 7 in the morning. When Bradbury drives by the school at 9 p.m., sometimes Stenerson's car is still there. Bradbury is realistic enough to recognize she's not willing to make that kind of sacrifice for a career.

That doesn't mean Bradbury regrets her stint as a fifth-grade teacher.

"I'm very glad that I did this because I can see all aspects of it," said Bradbury, 19, who plans to attend aviation and aeronautics school next fall to become a pilot.

Bradbury is one of seven students interning at a workplace of their choice this semester as part of the high school's Credit for Work program. Fawn Thibodeaux, the program's coordinator, said that often the students' experiences reinforce their career goals.

Bradbury's experience is not a failure of the program, Thibodeaux maintained, but a success - a small victory in what statistics suggest is an epidemic of malaise in the American workplace.

"So many times you have kids that spend four years, and Mom and Dad spend thousands of dollars on colleges, and they find out it's not what they want to do," Thibodeaux said. "(It's) not a bad outcome if they decide they don't like it."

Some students' experiences prompt them to fine- tune their plans instead of replacing them. Students interested in teaching, for example, often decide by the end of the program that they want a higher or lower grade level, or a different subject area.

"It gives them a better idea of where their interests really are," Thibodeaux said.

HHS senior Buck Christofferson thought he wanted to be a physical education teacher, and after helping teach gym classes at the middle school, he is leaning toward teaching P.E. in high school.

"This is what I'm using this for, to decide whether (to teach) the older kids or the younger kids," Christofferson said.

"I'm looking more at the older side so I can interact with the kids a little more," he said.

Christofferson's faculty supervisor, physical education teacher Bill Huebsch, said there are some things teachers don't find out until they're in the war zone.

"You've got kids from all kinds of different environments," Huebsch said. "You can talk about how to deal with them all you want, but when you get in here and you've got kids who haven't taken their meds or are having seizures or whatever, college won't prepare you for that."

HHS senior Britin Schuster, 18, worked at a preschool last year for Credit for Work. This year she went back to try again, this time in Danelle Bakke's first-grade class at Highland Park Early Primary School.

"I wanted to get into a real classroom and see what it's like," said Schuster. Like Bradbury, Schuster is a celebrity of sorts in her classroom, a favored companion for the St. Patrick's Day treasure hunt on the playground and an upcoming dinosaur dig.

Unlike Bradbury, Schuster is now ready to take the plunge. "That's what I want to go college for. Now I know that I do want to work with younger kids." Schuster said she will be studying elementary education at Montana State University-Bozeman next fall.

The Credit for Work program, which gives the students an hour or more experience every day for about five months, can be more valuable than programs that allow students to "shadow" a job for a day, said Thibodeaux, who also runs the school's job-shadowing program.

"They get more than a one-day experience," she said. "They get to spend a lot of time with people who agree to do Credit for Work," she said.

That extra time challenges students' expectations of a career. Senior Ashley Pattison, 18, knew she was interested in being a pharmacist, so she decided to spend her mornings helping customers at the window, answering the telephone, and observing the pharmacist at Kmart.

Pattison expected the job to be static. What she expected was not quite what she got.

"It's changing every day. I thought it would be the same every day," she said, but the customers and drugs always change. "There's something new to learn every day."

What Pattison has learned has only encouraged her.

"This has really opened up what it is and assured me this is the profession I want to go into," Pattison said. She has been accepted into pre-pharmacy programs at the University of Montana and Washington State University. After the two-year program, she will need to apply to a four-year pharmacy program.

Havre High's school-to-career program, which includes job-shadowing as well as Credit for Work, began with a federal grant in 1997, said Jerry Vandersloot, assistant principal at the high school. The first Havre student to try a semester-long internship did so in 1998, and since then the program has grown.

"Now I'm sure we're placing over 70 kids" a year between shadowing and internships, he said.

After the funding ran out in 2001, the high school decided to continue to fund the program.

"Kids find out many things about this career, whether it's something they like to do," said Vandersloot, adding that the program complements what the school's career counselors do in the classroom. "This gives kids a chance to get out and check things out firsthand."

Some of the students will even get college credit for the work they are doing now. Pattison's experience in the pharmacy will count toward her 60-hour hands-on requirement for pharmacy school.

That is only fitting, Thibodeaux said.

"These students are sacrificing a lot. They give up two class periods for half a credit, so I think it's my responsibility to make sure they're getting the maximum out of what they're doing."

For Pattison, at least, the sacrifice isn't as bad as it sounds.

"All the people I've talked to are excited to go each day," she said, adding that, "It just instills in them the feeling that they really want to do the field they've chosen."

The benefits of the program go beyond the students' career searches, Thibodeaux said.

"I see these students grow individually. I see them affecting their community in positive ways," she said.

Vandersloot agreed. "It's a great tool for us to connect with our community," he said. "This gives people firsthand experience with our kids, and they realize we have many many excellent kids too."

Senior Jenna Erhard has been an effective ambassador, judging from the response of the staff at the Northern Montana Hospital Care Center, where Erhard leads residents through a series of exercises she designed as part of her physical therapy internship.

"She personally has a real interest in physical therapy, and because of that interest we kind of fitted her to a need we had here in the care center," said activity coordinator Ila McClenahan. "The need was that we wanted to reduce the falls. We had a need for an exercise program here."

Erhard got to work, watching exercise videos and talking with physical therapists. Now she takes a circle of residents - about half in wheelchairs - through the half-hour routine three times a week.

"Oh, I think it's a wonderful program. It really exercises you," said care center resident Lillian Westin, 95, who said she has been doing the program for about two months. "Our bodies are getting more limber all the time."

Erhard said she has learned a great deal about hip replacements, knee replacements and rehabilitation from the therapy center, and a great deal about life from the care center residents.

"You just come to the realization that (the elderly) are really no different, it's just their stage in life, and you just want to help them come to a better quality of life," said Erhard, who will attend MSU-Bozeman in the fall, and eventually plans to attend a physical therapy program.

Erhard said she may continue to offer the exercise program this summer while she is still in Havre.

"You watch her with these people and it just amazes me," said activity aide Nancy Cronin. "They might not know her by name, but you watch them when they come in here and they know who's here."

Thibodeaux has already received 15 applications for the 10 slots next year - five per semester. Next year, she said, three students will work with vets at the Eastside Animal Hospital and Bear Paw Veterinary. Other students are interested in computer-aided drafting, automotive repair and diesel mechanics.

To qualify, she said, students have to get three letters of recommendation, have good attendance with few tardies or lates, and they also have to have planned ahead enough to be able to spare two class periods during the day.

These students affirm that it's worth taking the trouble to plan ahead - both for the next semester, and the next stage in their lives.

"The program is great because, I mean, we're making some pretty tough decisions," said Bradbury.

And if Erhard is right, those decisions may just save them from dreading each morning.

"It's making me realize that I will be happy in the future," said Erhard. "Because I like doing it."

 

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