How Thousands Of Kids Found Themseves Through Work Experience

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Ken Warren

Story and Photos by Ken Warren (ISN)

July 10, 2013, Victoria, BC (ISN) – Welcome to the twelfth article of Ken’s Blog, where historian Ken Warren takes us through some of his childhood memories, sharing with us the lives and times of his sports oriented family growing up in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the 1900’s and beyond. In this article Ken takes us through his experience with the Occupational Programme and the success of work placement within the community.

When I first began teaching, it was with Occupational Programme students who were mildly mentally-challenged and so were given a slight advantage over other students in that they were authorized to go out in the community during school days and experience several two-week work experiences. Generally-speaking the jobs they were undertaking were pretty basic blue collar labour tasks like janitor, gas jockey, motel maid, SPCA assistant, and so on. Since I was placing Occupational students and was given two Record Keeping classes as well, I decided to place the business class girls in offices for a few days and both the Victoria Times and Daily Colonist business end had my girls coupled with staff members. This was unauthorized as far as the province was concerned, but turned out quite successful. Since that worked, I expanded it a bit to include the three classes of Vent 10 (Vocational Entrance) and introduced them to the trades area with experiences in the trades of their choice. Since there was a good chance that an accident might occur and we would have problems created by the fact that these were unauthorized experiences, I met with Eileen Dailly, the Education Minister, and told her that we were using more than just Occupational students to go out on work experiences and the experiment was successful beyond our wildest dreams. Turned off students were returning to classes after a work experience, and applying themselves for the first time in years. Mrs. Dailly was excited and said she would discuss a much wider range of authorization for students experiencing community work places than just Occupational students.

By 1974 Mrs. Dailly had legislation ready to go for the adoption of the work experience concept for any student in secondary schools who were 15 years of age or older. By 1975, school districts were hiring full time work experience coordinators. It was the most important achievement in secondary education in the past 20 years. Maybe even more important than the introduction of kindergartens.

Not everybody thought so at first. I remember talking to principals and vice principals together and they agreed: “We’ve got some guys you can have if you get them on the garbage haul. Then maybe they’d come back here and want to work.” In fact, one of the bad boys they were talking about turned out to be one of my really good stories. The boy got a work experience at CN Express by the Johnson St. Bridge and they taught him how to drive their big rigs. He bought his own big rig and has been transporting truck loads back and forth across the U.S. border for years.

Work experience brought the best out of poor achievers, and reinforced the good in better achievers. All sorts of students from Grade 12 academic students to Grade 10 discipline problems succeeded. All trades, businesses, professions, and government agencies supported the program in Victoria. Think of all of the tools, forms, business machines, power equipment, appliances, plants, instruments, motors that students would handle that schools could never supply. Think of all the specialized people that students would work with from business, industry, the professions and trades, and tell me that there is no benefit to working with an expert in a field of work that the student himself has chosen. There is even a great benefit if the student learns that that field is not for him. He might well save a couple years of post secondary study by learning that area does not suit him.

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Feature by Ministry of Education at Dr. McGeer’s request – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

By 1977/78, the Sooke District Work Experience program was working so well that more than 500 students were working for two-week periods at some time during the school year and (touch wood) no student had been injured in the 3-year operation of the full-scale program. Many work locations had sufficient numbers of students over the three year period that they developed really positive training programs for the students. At this time Dr. Pat McGeer asked me if he could send out the staff of Education Today to do a feature on our Sooke district work experience program. That happened, and the feature appeared in the March, 1979. edition of the Ministry’s News Magazine.

By 1981, Education Minister Vander Zalm offered to create a provincial work experience coordinator position for me, but then he left politics a week later to create Fantasy Gardens. Forget any desire to make a pun here. His letter is below.

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Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

It was 1984 where we made our greatest strides with work experience. The federal government created a ‘Career Access Program’ and gave my program $100,000 to pay students for their work experiences. Since there was still money in the fund after the $100,000 was spent, the government gave us another $60,000. It worked this way: I would set up a work placement where the employer would pay half the student’s wage, and we’d pay the other half out of our government funds. I got the Superintendent to let me work the month of July so that I could place students in summer jobs. We were the only district that had a summer placement program, which is probably why we were given more money than any other district. My best move was to hire a 50-year-old single mother of four with Career Access funds. She was a grade 12 business student at Belmont and she became my work experience assistant. Together, Kathryn Clarke and I placed 1200 students in work experiences that year. After you read about the Jackass coming up next, I’ll tell you something wonderful about Kathryn Clarke.

ENTER THE JACKASS

Will Rogers is quoted as saying: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” I came close to that when I said: “I only met one man I didn’t like.” That man had been my Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Vic Martin. A little man from Australia; I guess that’s why he thought he must carry a big stick. I had been the school district’s coordinator for a decade when Martin arrived in 1984. He asked me what a work experience coordinator did, since “We didn’t have one in the North Island District.”

I, of course, loved my job, so I was enthusiastic to talk about it. “We placed more than a thousand students this past school year in work locations throughout the Greater Victoria community. They worked in professional and government offices, in businesses, trades, service locations, the airport, any locations that the student requests,” I said.

“Hold it,” he responded. “You said we placed students. I thought you were the only coordinator.”

“I am the only coordinator, at least the only one paid by the school district. However, I managed to get $100,000 of federal money to pay students, so one of the students I hired on this government money was an assistant to help me.”

I explained Kathryn Clarke’s situation to him. Showed him Dr. McGeer’s request and the Education Today story. Showed him Mr. Vander Zalm’s letter offering to create a provincial work experience coordinator position for me.

“Do the students miss school when they go out on this work experience?” he asked.

“They miss one or two weeks, but are committed to keep up with assignments. Anyway, I should add that because there was more federal funding available to school districts, our district received an additional $60,000 for student wages.”

In his office in the Spring of 1985, I left a list for Dr. Martin of the names of 1,227 student placements achieved by Kathryn Clarke and me in hundreds of work locations in Greater Victoria. I felt confident that he would see the value of students working in the community using equipment that no school could train them on, and with experts in the career fields of their choice. He couldn’t see past his nose. Within two weeks the jackass sent one of his district office lackeys to tell me that the district work experience program would be terminated at the end of June, and I would be heading back to the classroom.

I went to see the superintendent and he said: “We didn’t have Work Experience in the North Island District and we did just fine. I think this whole work experience thing is just a passing phase in education and will be washed out in a year or two.”

I appealed to the School Board and the stuperintendent stopped the STA (teacher’s) president and told him he wasn’t allowed to come to the appeal session. The president showed Stuper the section in the Education Act which allows him to defend a teacher at an appeal hearing. During the meeting, Stuper showed that he knew almost nothing about my work in the School District. However, since the Board had hired him to be their educational leader, they were stuck with him and they stuck by his ignorance and approved the termination of the program.

Before long, the provincial government mandated that every student in secondary schools must have career education, and a work experience component must be completed before graduation — AND I’M SURE THAT WILL INCLUDE THE NORTH ISLAND DISTRICT.

NOW FOR THAT WONDERFUL THING ABOUT KATHRYN CLARKE. WHILE I SET UP MORE THAN 7,000 WORK PLACEMENTS IN MY TENURE AS COORDINATOR, MY STUDENT ASSISTANT KATHRYN CLARKE LATER WAS ASSIGNED THE WORK EXPERIENCE COORDINATOR POSITION AT EDWARD MILNE COMMUNITY SCHOOL AND ACHIEVED A PLACEMENT THAT WAS BETTER THAN THE BEST PLACEMENT THAT I HAVE EVER HEARD OF. KEVIN SUCKLING WANTED TO BE A SPORTS TRAINER WITH SOME EXPERIENCE IN SPORTS MEDICINE. KATHRYN MANAGED TO GET KEVIN PLACED IN EDMONTON ON THE BOSTON BRUINS BENCH WITH THEIR TRAINER DURING THE STANLEY CUP FINALS BETWEEN THE OILERS AND THE BRUINS. KEVIN RETURNED WITH A PICTURE OF HIM AND CAM NEELY , WITH A PERSONAL NOTE AND SIGNATURE FROM CAM TO KATHRYN. THAT HAD BEEN HER ONLY REQUEST TO KEVIN: “GET CAM’S AUTOGRAPH FOR ME.”

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Cam Neely wrote a great autograph personally for Kathryn on the official Boston game line-up. Kevin is in the picture with Ray Bourque – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

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Kevin with Cam Neely and Kevin with Andy Moog – Photo courtesy of Ken Warren (ISN)

 

 

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