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Summer program helps ready Pinellas students for careers after graduation

The Career Acceleration Program is an initiative of the Pinellas Education Foundation and the school district.
 
At right, Merric Grego, an operator trainee for Pinellas County Utilities, leads students through the aeration basin at the water treatment plant at 7401 54th Avenue N on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. The students were part of the Summer Career Acceleration Program, which Grego, 19, completed last year before landing a job.
At right, Merric Grego, an operator trainee for Pinellas County Utilities, leads students through the aeration basin at the water treatment plant at 7401 54th Avenue N on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. The students were part of the Summer Career Acceleration Program, which Grego, 19, completed last year before landing a job. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published July 13, 2022|Updated July 13, 2022

SEMINOLE — As a junior at Seminole High School, Michael Piotrski, 16, has always dreamed of getting a job in a field that can be useful to his community. Recently, a summer program allowed him to work at the South Cross Bayou water plant in Pinellas County.

Now, he has a clearer view of his future.

“I hope to do something in this field,’’ said Piotrski. “It’s a really cool plant”

Piotrski got the help he needed from the Summer Career Acceleration Program, an initiative by the Pinellas Education Foundation and the Pinellas County school district to help students in the county’s 17 high schools develop skills for the work world. The six-week program, in its third year, is open to students 16 to 18 years old who are entering 12th grade and are likely to need to work upon high school graduation.

Each intern works at least 20 hours a week. They are paid $12 an hour and a stipend over their internship. Beginning June 6, a total of 216 students participated at 30 local businesses and nonprofits in Pinellas, said Nicole Gonzalez, assistant director of communications at the Pinellas Education Foundation.

Gonzalez said the initiative consolidates efforts to help motivate and guide students as they prepare for the future. This year, the program operates with a $90,000 Bank of America grant.

“It’s a big program that involves all kinds of industries,” said Gonzalez. “We want to see our students succeed, and this program gives them real life experiences.”

Before stepping into an internship, each student participates in workshops on topics such as job interviews, personal finance and career exploration. This year’s program included students like Madison Leiner, Olivia McGlone and Alexander Chheng, all 17 years old and interns at the water plant. By the end of the program, each student will be equipped with a resume and a head start that will set them up for long-term success.

“The great thing about these internship programs is also that, as a student, it gives you an opportunity to meet and to explore your capabilities,” said Shea Dunifon, education coordinator for Pinellas County Utilities. “For us, it is an opportunity to see if the student has the right personality, interest and aptitude.”

Seminole High teacher Jerry Cantrell said the program helps students find pathways to their goals.

“Now more than ever it’s especially important because the world is changing,” Cantrell said. “If we talk about sustainability or climate change we know there will be many jobs in high demand.”

Seminole High graduate Merric Grego, 19, was part of last summer’s program, completing his internship at South Cross Bayou. His supervisors at the water plant were impressed with his performance and commitment, and he was hired five months ago to be an entry level operator.

“My future was very uncertain after coming out of high school, but luckily I heard about this program,” said Grego, who also mentors students.

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“I’m very happy,” he said. “And since then I haven’t looked back.”