Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work Blazers go

Nov. 8, 2002, midnight | By Izaak Orlansky | 20 years, 6 months ago

The Cooperative Work Experience program allows students to jump into the work force early

Tito "Benjamin" Bonilla rushes to pick up the phone. "Good evening, thank you for calling the Sheraton Hotel, Washington, D.C., downtown. This is Benjamin, how may I help you?" Despite his navy blue uniform and professional tone, guests may think Bonilla is young. They're right: Bonilla has gotten an early start in the work force.

Bonilla and 65 other Blair seniors are part of the Cooperative Work Experience (CWE) program at Blair. For the first half of each day, they are students. But by afternoon, they become bank employees, secretaries, salespersons and doctor's assistants.

From class to work

CWE grades are decided not by tests but by job performance. And after a couple months' experience, many young workers say they are learning lessons a high school environment could never provide.

Students must log at least 225 hours at their job per semester. The CWE program, however, does not mean the end of academia. Each student must take four classes at Blair before On-the-Job Training (OJT) in the afternoon.

One of these classes is called Cooperative Work Study, which CWE coordinator and teacher Dee Rader has taught since its inception in 1983. She says the course outlines basics students will encounter in the professional world. This includes a focus on professional resumes and mock interviews as students prepare to talk directly with potential employers.

When students begin looking for jobs, many turn to Blair's job partnership programs. These include direct relationships with banks, doctors' offices, department stores and learning centers. The system works well, Rader says, because there are advantages for both parties. Students learn valuable lessons from job experiences, and businesses can hire for salaries lower than older employees might demand.

Marian Hayes, the office manager for clinical doctor Jeffrey Bernstein, says she has been hiring Blair students for four years to show them the work force experience firsthand. "We want to give young people the chance to work in an office atmosphere and to get a chance to see the way the real world works," she says.

Lessons in life

After about a month on the job, Blazers begin learning the benefits and consequences of the CWE-OJT program.
Because a job means a salary, the monetary rewards are often a nice bonus to hard work. However, in many cases the job is a necessary income for the student's family. "We have a huge population of kids who need to work for the money," Rader explains. Students can make from $7 to as much as $11 an hour.

The job experience also teaches many students lessons in planning, organization and life. For example, senior Silam Asegedew, who works as an assistant nurse to Patricia Schultz, a podiatrist in downtown Silver Spring, says the job helped her to overcome her fear. "I don't like blood. The first time, I got so scared. But by the second time, I got used to it," she says. She pauses and then adds, "I think I'm getting used to it."

Working towards the future

This firsthand look into career life has changed some students' attitudes about they want to do.

Before starting her CWE job as a nurse's secretary, senior Vanessa Ariza always pictured herself a nurse. However, CWE has made her rethink her choice. "I guess it kind of opened up my eyes; [health is] interesting, but it's not for me," she says.

Rader points out the program's value in the Blair community. "The program serves a population, quite frankly, that is overlooked. Not everyone wants to go to four years of college," she says. "And you'd be surprised in the confidence [the students] get."

Bonilla appears to be evidence of Rader's claim. When guests call for towels and toothbrushes, Bonilla orders other "engineers" to deliver the items. He is treated like an adult because, he says, he is an adult. "I'm not afraid to work with people," he says proudly. "I'm 18, and I'm doing something serious."

For Bonilla, hotel management perfectly complements his other interests: culinary arts and business management. Despite long work hours, he appreciates the opportunities the job provides. "Sometimes I get home around 12:00 a.m. But I'm very happy with my schedule. I'm learning a whole type of business," he says.

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Izaak Orlansky. Izaak Orlansky is a senior in the Communications Arts Program. His hobbies include cross-country running, swimming, and singing in the spring musical. Izaak is also a big fan of the Yankees, and likes playing with big fluffy dogs. More »

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