Learning and earning: A tale of two programs in Dorchester schools

By Debra R. Messick, Special to Dorchester Banner
Posted 12/8/21

Despite winter being on the doorstep, Dorchester Career and Technology Center’s Greenhouse horticulture students remain busy in the field. For the 12th year, they are helping make spirits …

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Learning and earning: A tale of two programs in Dorchester schools

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Despite winter being on the doorstep, Dorchester Career and Technology Center’s Greenhouse horticulture students remain busy in the field. For the 12th year, they are helping make spirits bright at the holidays, creating festive greenery available for purchase through the DCTC Greenhouse winter sale.

Under the direction of agriscience instructor Terry Nuwer, the youngsters have been hard at work creating decorative live wreaths, small and long centerpieces, boxwood trees, crosses and saddles, plus filling custom orders (one a memorable Candyland-themed arrangement). They’re also caring for succulent planters and poinsettias - red, white and pink, marble, and jingle bell varieties.

Prepping and selling the items raises vital funds while helping students gain valuable work experience. Throughout the year, the greenhouse “elves” also offer floral treasures to brighten other holidays and a bumper harvest of starter plants when spring planting season rolls around.

Nuwer helps gather the greenery and uses donated wholesale materials as well. This year, due to evolving COVID uncertainties, the marketed plants, instead of being greenhouse produced, were outsourced to local growers.

After directly enrolling into Nuwer’s program for junior year, the students spend 2 to 2 ½ hours in her program each school day. Before assigning tasks prior to each sale event, Nuwer asks participants to prepare at least one design. After balancing each student’s level of interest with where their talents lie, she’ll ask them to continue or try something else.

This year, 13 DCTC Greenhouse program students, most from non-horticulture backgrounds, are involved in filling winter holiday sale online orders located on the program’s Facebook page via the following link: https://form.jotform.com/213114705796052.

One-of-a-kind items for in-person purchase will be available at three upcoming community events on Saturday, Dec. 11: Christmas on Pine Street Pop Up Shopping and Holiday Fun, Cambridge; Christmas at Linchester Mill, Preston; and the Winter Fair at Unity-Washington United Methodist Church, Hurlock.

Area businesses displaying the group’s creations include the Bay Country Shop, Maiden Maryland and Tractor Supply, plus Maryland Blue restaurant (Taylor’s Island) and Snappers’ Café.

The DCTC Greenhouse winter holiday sale runs through Dec. 17. For more information, to place a special order or to get placed on the group’s email list, Nuwer suggests visiting the DCTC Greenhouse Facebook page and messaging her there.

Youth Apprenticeships

Another group of students actively sowing viable vocational skills are those in the Youth Apprenticeship Program. Learning to apply to and interview for jobs with community businesses and organizations, they earn wages while working. They also gain credit hours toward graduation, and are considered participants in an honors program, according to Jacqueline Lynn Sorrells, DCPS Career Counseling and Apprenticeship coordinator.

In 2018, Dorchester County was the Eastern Shore’s first school district to join the innovative venture bridging the Maryland Department of Labor and area businesses, many of whom have embraced the opportunity to grow a trained local workforce.

While required to work a minimum of 450 hours, Sorrells noted that many students complete that number over the summer, continuing to add more throughout the school year, gaining additional income and experience.

Open to 11th and 12th graders who have completed all diploma required courses, Sorrells also pointed to three vital “cornerstones” covered by successful apprentice applicants.

The first is good class and school attendance. The second is interpersonal interaction with peers and adults, particularly the ability to resolve conflict productively. The third is receiving feedback positively, with a willingness to incorporate it toward learning and growth.

Once accepted into the program, students decide what jobs they’re interested in, often based on what they plan to go into after graduation, but there’s enough flexibility for them to explore possibilities they might not have considered. One apprentice with thoughts of entering the medical field applied to the Eastern Shore Title Company, finding the company to be a perfect fit.

Students get practice creating a resume and cover letter and gathering references prior to attending an informal meet and greet with prospective employers. If the student’s and business’ interests seem compatible, an interview follows, Sorrells noted.

Once hired, students have an on-site mentor, and Sorrells serves as an ongoing liaison, visiting the workplace at regular intervals. 

One of the pleasant surprises she has seen among the companies hiring apprentices is their supportive embrace of the students, as 16- or 17-year-olds, with important school-related activities to experience, from participating in sports to preparing for prom, in many cases celebrating milestones along with them.

Another welcome aspect of program participation is that it facilitates fresh, innovative connections for companies with the state’s labor department.

For more information about the Youth Apprentice Program, visit http://dcps.k12.md.us/schools/high-schools/cambridge-south-dorchester/youth-apprenticeship-program, or contact Sorrells at 410-901-6950, ext. 3402 and sorrellsl@dcpsmd.org. 

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