The faces of Summer Jobs 253

Different worlds, same new opportunities

7/7/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

​Tristen, only child of a single mother, decided to get serious about graduating from high school—and needed to catch up on some credits. Carl, fourth of five children and a star athlete, looks forward to his first job—and making some money while he trains for fall football.

Two young men. Two very different worlds. Both finding opportunity in Summer Jobs 253, a program started four years ago after Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland attended a conference with President Obama, who challenged mayors to create plans to lower high youth unemployment rates. The result: A partnership between Tacoma Public Schools, the City of Tacoma and several local non-profits including the REACH Center, Tacoma Community House and Workforce Central.

“Young people face many barriers to securing meaningful employment, including inexperience, lack of connections or simply not having a high school diploma,” Strickland said. “We address these barriers by providing paid internships at reputable companies in Tacoma, financial literacy training and allowing our students to earn credits toward on-time graduation. I’m proud of the impact this initiative has had on education and job opportunities for our youth.”

The 2017 edition of Summer Jobs 253 is placing 253 current sophomores and juniors in paid internships at scores of area businesses and organizations. Students earn $11.15 per hour for 96 hours of work over the summer. They also receive up to two academic credits for high school—or, if they don’t need the extra high school credits, three college course credits through Tacoma Community College. Students must be at least 16 years old before June 1 to qualify. Along with the work at local businesses, students must attend an unpaid 20-hour training week and complete online coursework on career and business skills such as financial literacy, workplace ethics and goal-setting.

Quiet, soft-spoken Tristen Gaston’s broad shoulders nearly fill a doorway at the Day Reporting School at Remann Hall. He’s quick to point out that he’s not enrolled at the juvenile facility because of any criminal activity; the Day Reporting School simply serves as one of several TPS locations where students can catch up on missed credits. After attending middle school in Bellingham, Tristen, an only child, and his mother moved to Tacoma, but he didn’t really fit in during short stints at Lincoln or Oakland high schools, he said. He’s fallen behind on credits as a result, but says he realized he needed to get serious about graduation.

“I missed a lot of school and got behind on my credits,” he said. “I was looking for a job, and I need credits, and this is basically a job opportunity and credits too.”

Tristen already works at a Taco Time, but the opportunity to make more money, help out his mom, and pick up some school credit appeals to him.

“It’s not like required that I pay rent or anything,” he said. “But I want to help out, sure. I’ll get my manager at Taco Time to work around the (Summer Jobs 253) schedule.”

Over at Wilson High School, Carl Brooks also looms in a doorway and looks every bit the football player and track-and-field athlete. Carl greets you with a big smile and bone-crushing handshake. He specializes in the throwing events—javelin, discus and shot put—and comes from a large family, including two older sisters and a younger brother.

Carl lives closer to Foss but took advantage of Tacoma’s open enrollment policy to attend Wilson instead.

“You hear a lot of good things about Wilson,” he said. “I just felt it would be a better fit for me, both in athletics and academically.”

Summer Jobs 253 appeals to Carl for different reasons.

“It’ll be my first job,” Carl said. “It’s something to do while I train for athletics in the fall, and also I hope to learn some good time management. Having the responsibility of a job will teach me how to handle that. Learn different skills, and have something to do.”

Both young men want to attend college; Tristen said he’d like to return to Bellingham and study science at Western Washington University, while Carl wants to double-major in engineering and business, possibly at the University of Washington.

“Just having the (Summer Jobs 253) opportunity is going to be great,” Carl said. “Just having that experience. Then if I want to work somewhere else next summer, (employers) will see that Summer Jobs 253 experience, and if I do a good job, they’ll know I’m a good employee.”