Soroco expands its successful internship program
December 10, 2018
OAK CREEK — Soroco High School junior Jonathan Jerome may be only 16 years old, but he's been making money as a welder under the tutelage of a professional mentor.
And then there's 17-year-old Jesse Amrein. He spent last year helping draw plans for Chick-fil-A under a professional engineering mentor based out of Oak Creek.
The two teens are part of the small rural high school's push to expand its internship program throughout Routt County.
"It was pretty cool they'd let me leave campus and go into an internship in town every day," Amrein said. "I actually received some credit, and during the summer, I got to earn money."
Most importantly, Amrein got to figure out if engineering was in his future.
"I actually learned I want to go to school for civil engineering and that I really enjoy the stuff," Amrein added.
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Amrein interned with Mountain Pine Technical Services. Owner Thorne (Ken) Clark is excited that Soroco High School is pushing to expand its internships.
"With the new principal and superintendent taking over last year, the program has developed significantly," Clark said. "It was a real pleasure to jump onboard with the school and actually help out."
Soroco's School to Work program coordinator Kristi Brown said the school is building on its famously strong ag program run by teacher Jay Whaley, who has overseen hundreds of students through the FFA’s supervised agricultural experience program.
Senior Hannah Hayes has learned to run her own sheep business under Whaley's direction.
"For me, it was to experience running my own company just so I can have that experience of working on my own and facing real world problems," Hayes said.
Hayes said her teacher calculated last year's supervised agriculture experience at Soroco had an economic impact of $186,325 on the local economy.
In fact, Whaley said nearly half the school's students are involved in a supervised agriculture experience with 25 percent of them being placed in some kind of paid or unpaid job. He said 75 percent of these students have started their own businesses.
"Soroco has students raising livestock, in fabrication, food services, landscape and even a student that leases an 800-acre ranch and sells hay and pasture," Whaley said. "The key is to find a student’s interest and match them in a career field."
Young welder Jonathan Jerome discovered welding in his first ag class as a freshman. He already has nine welding certifications from the Hayden High School's technical school and interned with AMW Welding under the supervision of Bill Northrup, a master welder who's been in the business for 40 years.
"He came to work with me at our school facilities since I wasn't 16 yet," Jerome said. "I learned a better welding pattern — how to weld aluminum — which is really hard, and what simple measurements are right for plans."
Since he turned 16, Jerome has worked in the field welding and even logged 104 hours on one job alone where he helped Northrup fix a metal fence.
Northrup encourages other businesses to allow students to get a taste of real life, which will help them decide which direction to take after high school.
"College is not for every kid. There's a lot of these building trades you can make a lot of money," Northrup said.
Soroco High School's certified nursing assistant program, run by Cindy Meade, R.N., also has been very successful. Meade said her high school students are even being recruited by places like Casey's Pond Senior Living in Steamboat Springs.
"We have kids who are very hard workers, and by the second day of clinicals, I was being asked for phone numbers," Meade said.
Meade said internships and classes can also be great for helping students realize which careers they aren’t suited for.
"This class can be a rule out, and they haven't invested hours and hours and thousands of dollars going to school," Meade explained.
Soroco's CNA certificate program is taught in conjunction with Colorado Northwestern Community College in Craig.
In the meantime, Brown has been meeting one on one with students in hopes of eventually connecting them to a mentor or business.
"I'm encouraging businesses and organizations to reach out to me, so we can engage our students in meaningful work experiences," Brown said.
Anyone interested in getting involved in Soroco’s internship program should contact Brown at email@example.com.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.