ORANGE COVE – Kings Canyon Unified School District’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP) has made huge strides forward in its eight years of existence, hitting a record high for student participation in 2023.
From what began as a modest 30 students participating in the first summer job training program in 2016, the 2023 SWEP job placement and work session drew 112 students from schools in the district: Reedley High, Orange Cove High, Reedley Middle College High School, Kings Canyon High School, Mountain View School and Kings Canyon Online.
The combination of incoming senior students and newly-graduated high-schoolers were partnered up with supervisors and representatives of 45 businesses in Reedley, Orange Cove and Dinuba. The job placement and work sessions consisted of 100 hours of on-the-job training between June 12 and June 30.
The goal of the program in partnership with the Valley Regional Occupational Program (VROP) is to give students valuable preparation time as they decide on future career pathways and then look to pursue those options, according to Gloria Valencia, SWEP administrator for Kings Canyon Unified.
“We want to have another connection between the district and the businesses in our areas, and to just strengthen the programs that we’re offering at the high school,” said Valencia, who is a learning director at Citrus Middle School in Orange Cove. “We’re giving the students the real world experience of ‘you took these classes, you’ve learned this (and) this is how you apply it at a real job site.’”
For some of the graduated seniors, the benefits have been immediate. Christian Carlos Arroyo, who graduated from Orange Cove High in June, used the internship period to help land a job as a pay per call firefighter (PCF) with the Orange Cove Fire Department. The internship was a final step in the process that included certificated training in urban rural firefighting and wildland firefighting.
“The program was awesome. Honestly, without the internship I don’t think I would have gotten the job as a PCF,” Carlos Arroyo said, who presently is living in Dinuba and got a foot in the door. “It helped me show them what I was capable of, and it went on from there.”
Carlos Arroyo said he put in his 100 hours of job training by working almost every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We would go over all the apparatuses and get familiar with everything that’s on the engines at the station,” he said. “Every time we’d get a call, I’d run the call with them, shadowing them.”
One of those experiences, made possible by his previous certifications and training, was to assist and help with cardiopulmonary resuscitation of a patient who had coded.
“It’s an awesome experience. I’m basically doing anything I can and anything else certified through the ROP course. That’s pretty good experience right there,” he said. Carlos Arroyo hopes to eventually work with a city fire department, and has appreciated the wide array of experience he has received so far with OCFD.
Students involved with the program began a commitment in February with the first of seven work experience mandatory sessions along with professional development sessions. Students then did a meet and greet with job supervisors on May 9-10 in Orange Cove and Reedley prior to the job placement work. At the end of the 100 hours, students had to submit their timesheets and program documents to the SWEP coordinators.
Orange Cove native Valencia used a similar student job training program to prepare herself with her own education career, which included teaching at Orange Cove High for a decade before she got into administration.
“When we were starting this program, our emphasis was to do trade, specific trades based on classes that are offered at the high school. Mechanics, culinary arts,” she said. “That’s how it all started, just going door to door with having a student do an internship for 100 hours at their job site. And we’re constantly supervising them and checking in on them to make sure they’re okay.”
Valencia praises the entire SWEP staff for its dedication to the sustained growth of the program. Coordinators are Angelica Pardo (RMCHS, Kings Canyon, Mountain View and Online), Rachel Tomassian (Reedley High), Denise Bernal (Orange Cove High) and Leonar Cruz-Dixon (migrant students at RHS, OCHS, RMCHS and KCHS).
Of her own involvement with the program, Valencia said she’s paying forward the opportunities she was given in launching her own career.
“The purpose (for me) when I came back to my community was to give back, and this is one way of giving back,” she said.