Students find way into workforce

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Ten Jeffco public school students sat in the front two rows in the large conference room.

Nearly 100 people settled into their seats waiting for Jim Panzer, district transition coordinator, to introduce the students and their mentors, who hold various jobs in Colorado government departments.

The students are part of a high school transition program through Project Search, a national organization that places disabled students in workplace settings to allow them to explore various careers and put their training skills to work.

Project Search was first implemented in Jefferson County in April 2012 and students started their internships on Aug. 20.

“The eight weeks since then have been a blur,” Panzer said.

Duriye Powell, from the Department of Reclamation, organized the event celebrating the first class of interns for completing their first of three job rotations. To celebrate they held a grand opening ceremony for Project Search in Jefferson County at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood on Oct. 17.

“The beauty of Project Search is the collaboration between the groups,” Panzer said.

After Panzer introduced the program and explained how it would benefit students in Jefferson County, it was time for the student interns to speak.

The students introduced their mentors to the audience.

Many tears were shed as mentors expressed their joy from having the students in their offices, which included the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Nation Parks Service, National Business Center and Bureau of Reclamation.

Mentors said the interns had helped archive files, copy documents, convert paper documents to PDF and answer phones.

The mentors who spoke about their experience in the program, expressed their sadness at seeing the students go. Some even shed a few tears when speaking about how the program had been a learning experience for them as well as for the students.

Panzer said all of the feedback he received about the students had been positive, and showed how successful the program could be.

“You all have gone a long way in a short time,” Panzer said to the students. “I really look forward to hearing about all of your successes in the future.”