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On-the-job training teaches Westmoreland high school students how to survive in workforce

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 9:13 p.m.
Job Coach Heidi Miller instructs Ligonier Valley High School student Trent Tutokey at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital. The students are learning about jobs at the hospital through the Work Discovery Program, a partnership between Excela and the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Ligonier Valley High School students (left) JoAnna Lynch, 16, and Josh Smith, 17, work in the kitchen at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital. The students are learning about jobs at the hospital through the Work Discovery Program, a partnership between Excela and the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Ligonier Valley High School student Trent Tutokey sweeps the lobby at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital. The students are learning about jobs at the hospital through the Work Discovery Program, a partnership between Excela and the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

As Christopher McAdams wipes furniture in a waiting room in Excela Latrobe Hospital, the Derry Area High School junior is following the directions of his supervisor and learning skills that he hopes will serve him well in the future.

“I like it that I am learning what is expected on the job and learning more about jobs,” said McAdams, a Derry Township resident who is participating in the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's Work Discovery Program.

McAdams, who wants to be a landscape designer when he graduates, is among about 100 high school students participating in the special program that helps students ages 16-21, whose instruction is guided by individualized education programs. The intermediate unit program draws students from 11 school districts, including Derry Area and Ligonier Valley.

The program is designed to train the students to develop marketable skills in the workplace so they can land a job after graduation, said Heidi Miller, an intermediate unit job coach for the Work Discovery Program. The state requires that school districts offer a transitions program for students who have the individualized education programs, Miller said.

“Our job is to teach them how to survive out there,” Miller said, referring to students leaving school and entering the workforce full-time.

The students have been placed in about 10 work sites, including Excela Latrobe and Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, the Greensburg Hempfield Library, the Christian Layman store in Greensburg, the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center in Greensburg and at the World of Values store and Excela's Corporate Services Center, both in Hempfield.

Working alongside their job coaches, they interact with the professional staff and learn good work ethics through the program, Miller said. The intermediate unit pays the students $5 an hour, said Miller, who oversees the students at Latrobe Hospital.

The program has been successful enough that some of the intermediate unit's partners in the Work Discovery program have hired the students who worked for them, while other students found employment with companies such as Giant Eagle supermarkets or Sam's Club, or in specific work programs designed for their needs, King said.

Latrobe Hospital

At Latrobe Hospital, two groups of three students from the Ligonier Valley School District and Derry Area's McAdams are bused to the hospital several days a week for a 90-minute work session. They are required to follow a dress code and wear an identification badge.

John Meharey, 18, a junior at Ligonier Valley, says he hopes the skills he is learning in the food service department will help him land a good job after high school.

Working in a hospital is a good experience for Jo Anna Lynch of Stahlstown, a 16-year-old Ligonier Valley sophomore who wants to continue working there in the summer.

“I want to get a degree in nursing,” Lynch said.

Students like McAdams are assisting the hospital's environmental services department, which is similar to janitorial duties. They clean specific sections, wipe down waiting rooms and toys, and verify they have executed the assignment as they make their way throughout the hospital.

“The students are very committed and care about their job,” Miller said.

Latrobe Hospital was always sensitive to having people of varying skill levels as employees, said Excela Health spokeswoman Robin Jennings.

The hospital's employees have been open to working with the students and mentoring them, Jennings said. The students are working under the auspices of Excela's volunteer services.

“We just love them,” said Patty Beatrice, environmental services supervisor at Latrobe Hospital. “I don't have to baby-sit them. If something is wrong, they just tell me.

“They picked up on how to use the cloths and place the dirty stuff where it needs to go,” Beatrice added.

The students are supplementing the regular workforce and are not supplanting any permanent employees, Jennings said. Working in the hospital is “the best way to expose them to the health care environment,” Jennings said.

“Both the students and employees seem to be working together very well. They're all supportive of each other,” said Polly Benning, volunteer service coordinator at Latrobe Hospital.

The staff embraces the students as part of their team. Pictures of the Latrobe Hospital students appear on the bulletin boards in the volunteer services office as well as the environmental services break room.

Some of the staff included the students in a Halloween celebration, while other staff members had cupcakes for the students when they were required to get flu shots, Benning said.

“They (the staff) have really incorporated our students as a part of their team,” Miller said, adding that the students have been included in the daily staff meetings.

Westmoreland Hospital

At Westmoreland Hospital, a group of four students spot cleans, restocks magazines and empties trash receptacles in assigned areas.

“We take it one step at a time with tasks. We teach and reteach if there is a problem, but for the most part, the students prove to be independent. We step back and observe at that point,” said Cindy King, an intermediate unit job coach who oversees the students at Westmoreland Hospital.

King also coaches four students at Excela's Corporate Services Center in patient accounting, where the students receive their tasks from their supervisor, an Excela Health employee. Their work has included removing invoices and checks from envelopes, organizing billing sheets by date and properly recycling Excela papers.

“I like doing my job,” says Hempfield student Keriann Collins about her assignments in patient accounting. “I love how I can organize, and I love math and numbers.”

King said that for her the most rewarding part “is watching the kids learn from the program, graduate from the program and get jobs. Just being able to see them become independent and learn the structure of a job is so wonderful.”

Miller said Excela Health was open to participating in the Work Discovery program when she and King asked Excela last spring as they sought to expand the number of work sites for the students.

“Excela has been so supportive, allowing us to branch out into other areas. This is what the kids need. The safety rules and regulations that the students have been learning will be extremely useful someday if they secure employment in the health care industry; the kids are getting the real experience,” said Mary Petrina, job coach mentor for the intermediate unit.

A group of Clearview School students is helping at the Christian Layman Corps store in Greensburg, stocking shelves and loading trucks that take goods to needy people, said Curtis Hoffman, president of the nonprofit.

“It works out great for us, and they learn a real-life job situation. They have a good approach to work,” Hoffman said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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