Current and former Vernonia High School students have been working and getting paid this summer through a grant program the School District received this past year.
The Vernonia School District, in partnership with the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council (UNWC) and Stub Stewart State Park, was the recipient of a one-year Career and Technical Education (CTE) Grant through the Oregon Department of Education and the Bureau of Labor and Industries. The grant pays for six student summer interns, providing work and learning opportunities which allow the students to develop the skills they will need to prepare for their future in college, trade school and the work force.
Two students, VHS graduate Bridger Steward and Quentin Skanes, who will be a junior next year at VHS, are working at Stub Stewart State Park as Park Interns. Steward and Skanes are performing all the duties that an Assistant Ranger at the park would be responsible for completing.
Jake Harbour and Jared Whitton were hired and are working at the Vernonia School District in the maintenance department, maintaining the plants at the greenhouse, maintaining campus grounds, and getting classrooms ready for students in the fall.
Ben Skanes and Adonis Hopkins are working at the UNWC, learning to use Geographic Information System (GIS), performing analysis of road stream crossings and the impact on salmon access to spawning and rearing stream habitat. They also perform other field and watershed restoration work.
According to Stub Stewart Park Office Manager Betsy Miller, who is supervising Steward and Skanes, eleven students applied for the six total positions through the CTE training program at VHS. The students work four days each week for five hours a day. They are paid around $10 an hour for twenty hours for the six weeks the program is scheduled to run.
A recent visit to Stub Stewart Park found Steward out on the trail conducting trail maintenance duties. Project supervisor Miller says Steward and Skanes are learning about general park operations and attend and participate in regular crew meetings, safety meetings and training classes. Miller says both students are gaining experience in the maintenance shops, and are learning to properly store equipment, tools, and vehicles after use.
Among their other duties, Steward and Skanes will perform custodial duties, cleaning restrooms, disposing of garbage, and tidying campsites. The interns will also do minor building maintenance and repair. A large part of their duties involve trail construction, maintenance and restoration.
Intern Steward, who completed forestry classes while a student at VHS, says he just returned from working with the Northwest Youth Corp where he performed trail building and maintenance and invasive species removal. Steward says he is already enrolled in the Forestry program at Mt. Hood Community College this fall where he will study Forestry Management.
Miller says the students who applied for the internships at Stub Stewart Park were put through the exact same interview process that all applicants for seasonal Assistant Ranger positions go through. “This way they received real experience in job interviewing,” said Miller. “We’re trying to give them a real job experience. This is a true job and they’re actually doing work that the regular crew does. We’re going to try to get them into all aspects of the park, including participating in an interpretive program.”
Miller says the interns will also be responsible for a trail assessment project in the park. “They will be given a GPS unit and will go out and assess a trail, decide what needs to be done and then do the work,” explained Miller.
The student interns are providing extra manpower and allowing all three agencies to get more work done this summer. “It’s difficult with our limited staff to have someone out hiking all twenty-three miles of trail here in the park,” explains Miller. “That’s what these interns can do.”
Miller says the School District intends to partner with Stub Stewart Park to apply for a grant through Oregon State Parks to continue and expand the program. Miller says the application would be a collaborative effort that would include equestrian, mountain biking and disc golf advocates and user groups. “Part of that grant will be for a crew specifically from Vernonia High School to continue this work here,” says Miller.
The CTE grant the School District received is just for one year but Vernonia School District Superintendent Aaron Miller says he plans to try to find funding to continue the internship program at the District and at the UNWC as well.