Libbi Hill, a special education teacher at Pekin Community High School, wanted more real-life job experiences for her students. She had a goal.

The goal was to use PCHS’ “School-to-Work Program” to connect her students with businesses so they could acquire job experiences that they might not seek on their own. This program is open to seniors.

“We want them to have life skills when they become independent after graduation,” said Hill, who is in her third year with the School-to-Work Program. “They need to know how to buy a house or rent an apartment, how to balance and maintain a checkbook, how to budget, and we teach that in Work Seminar.”

Prior to enrolling in the program, her students must take a semester-long class called “Work Seminar” at the high school. Students may choose to take Work Seminar for one semester or an entire year. Work Seminar consists of in-class work. Hill described it as a “transitional program” to get her students prepared for the School-to-Work Program. During the Work Seminar class, students are taught how to navigate a job search, how to fill out an application, how to stay organized and practice job interviews. They also prepare for on-the-job skills such as working with money and how to construct an email to a boss.

When the School-to-Work Program began, it lasted one class hour. Hill felt there was a time constraint, because by the time students arrived to the work site, they got very little done before it was time to leave and return to PCHS. Now the program lasts two class hours, with an-hour-and-a-half at the work site.

“I have kids go out Monday through Friday,” said Hill. “I want them to have work experience. If they are not working, they are volunteering in the community. Some students work after school, on holidays or over the summer.”

She said this program is a success, with some students having been hired on after the program was over. 

Currently there are 23 Pekin businesses participating. Hill visits her students once a week at their job.

“We’re always looking for new businesses to partner with,” Hill said. “Some places only have students on certain days of the week, and others have the student paired with them every day of the (school) week. The students get excited about the work they do.”

Mashie’s Pub and Eatery has participated for the last two years. 

“I think it’s really good for them,” said Mashie’s Kitchen Manager Brody Jackson. “It gives them skills they wouldn’t get (by staying in the classroom). Last year, the student we had was really interested in culinary, so we had him do prep work, roll silverware, dust, things you’d have to do at a restaurant. He did such a good job we ended up hiring him.”

Some of the other businesses include Alexander’s Tax Service, Hope Chest, ServPro, Pekin Public Library and Steger’s Furniture. This year is the first year that West Dublin Pub and the Villas of Holly Brook have participated.

Hill said she encourages businesses to treat her students like any other employee. Duties assigned depend on the nature of the business. Students are asked ahead of time what their interests are, and Hill tries to pair them with a business that is a good fit.

Students who are assigned to Pekin Insurance have worked in the mailroom sorting, delivering and running mail and have worked in the cafeteria.

Hill said there is a PCHS student at Villas of Holly Brook who job shadows a certified nursing assistant (CNA), interacts with residents, and assists with cleaning and gardening.

Students participating in the School-to-Work Program either drive, take the PCHS bus, ride public transportation or have a parent drive them to their job site. 

At the end of the year, Hill and PCHS thanks the businesses and students with a breakfast banquet, prepared by PCHS culinary arts students.