Learning center prepares Omak kids for work

By Monica Garza-Acevedo, training counselor at WorkSource Okanogan County

Tucked in a classroom next to the front lobby of WorkSource Okanogan County, high-school-aged students pursue their education.  Students arrive at the Omak Learning Center every day, working toward their state diploma or GED.

For the past 15 years, a partnership with the WorkForce Investment Act youth program and the Okanogan School District has provided youths who have dropped out or need a different atmosphere from the regular high school environment a chance to further their educational goals and achieve success.

Learning Center employees Mary Hinger, Linda Jane, Monica Garza-Acevedo and Heather Sprinkle

Employees at WorkSource Okanogan who keep the Learning Center growing and thriving are, standing left to right, Mary Hinger and Linda Jane. Sitting left to right are Monica Garza-Acevedo and Heather Sprinkle.

The basic skills program at the Omak Learning Center is a school-to-work alternative for students 16 to 21 years old, based on a fundamental principal of learning: Students learn at their own pace. The primary focus is to provide the necessary personal and academic skills and support that enables students to become confident, productive and employable.

This graduation season, eight Learning Center students will receive their high school diplomas, two will earn their GEDs and one more finishes GED testing this June.

Linda Jane, an Employment Security employee and certified instructor, works attentively with each student to complete his or her personal academic goals. She assists students through a computer program that works on skill development in reading, writing, language arts, math, science, keyboarding and social studies. Learning is competency-based and goal-oriented, and includes individual and group instruction.

“The biggest challenge is getting students to believe in themselves,” said Linda. “I love seeing them accomplish their goals, be it GED or their diploma, and move into higher education or work.”

My role as youth trainer is to provide students with school-to-work opportunities. Our program gives them a glimpse of what life is really about when they enter the workplace. I engage them in career development exercises that focus on pre-employment and work maturity skills they’ll need to find and retain a job.

I also involve students in job exploration workshops, learning-based community projects and other training opportunities. In fact, the Omak Chronicle newspaper published a story in January about one of the community projects the students dreamed up, aided by Washington Service Corps AmeriCorps member Heather Sprinkle.

We’re fortunate to have Heather. She works closely with Linda, assisting students by tutoring, mentoring, testing and basic skills development. She also helps students develop employment and leadership skills.
Mary Hinger, a supervisor at WorkSource Okanogan, oversees the entire program. She’s the guiding force and support for staff and youth in the center.
“We’re a second or even third chance program that helps youth succeed,” said Mary. “We’re excited to be preparing the next generation of job seekers.”

While the Learning Center has been an immensely valuable program, it has suffered its share of funding challenges throughout its existence. We hope the future will bring more funding to provide youth the ability to be successful in their careers.

“The Learning Center is a vital part of what we do here,” said Craig Carroll, administrator of WorkSource Okanogan. “We’re proud to help students take the next step in their education and in their working lives.”

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