HOWELL, Mich. — A minute into his shift, Dylan Parkkila is already busy dusting shelves at the hardware store where he works. Next, he’ll cart trash, carry items down from storage and generally do whatever is needed to keep things humming.
“It’s the everyday work stuff,” said his boss, Pinckney True Value Hardware co-owner Wendy Robertson.
For Parkkila and others like him, the four-hour-a-week job is hardly everyday work stuff.
Parkkila is among more than 40 students enrolled in the Work Readiness Assessment Program, a job-training program open to special-needs teens in Livingston County school districts.
It’s designed to help students gain real-life experience while overcoming any number of physical and educational disabilities. In Parkkila’s case, it’s a learning disability that he ad-mits can sometimes make regular classroom programs a challenge for him.
At the hardware store, though, he has blossomed.
“Just working on my own is something I really appreciate,” said Parkkila, a Pinckney Community High School senior.
Though the program has taken various forms over the past few decades, coordinators said it’s overcoming a challenge of its own.
“Our challenge involves the requirements of the Michigan Merit Curriculum,” said Kristin Capra, transition coordinator for the Livingston Education Service Agency.
Enacted six years ago, the standardized state curriculum places renewed emphasis on general education classes but leaves less time for specialized education programs like WRAP.
“We’re trying to keep the fidelity of what we are doing while meeting the Michigan Merit Curriculum standards,” Capra said.
In its current form, the program combines a weekly pair of two-hour classroom sessions with twice-a-week, two-hour job shifts. Students meet with teachers and program classmates Mondays and Fridays and go to their jobs Tuesdays and Thursdays. For most students, the work and classroom sessions make up the final two hours of each school day.
While in class, students work on resume writing, build job-hunting skills, and review and learn how to resolve workplace issues.
“It gets them thinking about what it’s going to be like when they enter the workplace.” said Parkkila’s teacher, Andy Doupe.
The program depends on a four-part partnership, Capra said.
Local school districts provide teachers and classroom space, while LESA lines up employers. The Brighton, Hartland, Howell and Pinckney school systems are all full-time participants. Fowlerville is a part-time participant because of its size and smaller number of eligible students.
Work Skills Corp., a Brighton-based employment services agency, handles fiduciary matters, including the students’ paychecks.
“They do have to pay taxes,” Capra said. “That’s another lesson they get to learn.”
Michigan Rehabilitation Services, a state agency serving those with disabilities, determines whether students are eligible to participate and provides their pay. It also arranges to have students transported to and from work. Like other WRAP students, Parkkila takes a bus from school to his job.
“We couldn’t do this without the cooperation of all four partners,” Capra said.
Then, there are the businesses themselves.
In addition to maintaining longtime participants like Pinckney True Value Hardware, the program adds businesses each year.
Veterinarians, drug stores, coffee houses and auto shops are among this semester’s job providers, LESA work study coordinator Patrick McElyea said.
“There are a lot of local businesses that have become involved,” he said. “We’re very grateful for that, and it’s a big help to our students.”
Parkkila said he’ll build on the skills he’s learned next year when he attends the Michigan Career and Technical Institute in Kalamazoo.
His employers say they’ll miss him
“He’s a good worker,” store co-owner Mary Banister said. “You would think he was one of our regular staff.”