Students who have learning or physical disabilities that might keep them from finding work are getting help.  A new program gives them crucial work experience through internships.  Here’s a transcript of CPR education reporter Jenny Brundin’s report on a pilot program that’s giving participants more than job skills.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: While the kids in this classroom at Edison Elementary are at lunch,  a different set of students -- young adults --  have flooded the room, fiddling with electric sockets.

Simon Montoya: 4-point-zero. Is it off?

Reporter: Simon Montoya is checking a kilowatt meter. The 20-year-old is measuring how much energy an overhead projector is using.

Montoya: Oh wow!

Zach Trujillo: It’s just warming up remember?

Montoya: Oh, yeah. Wow! 98.9!

Reporter: Montoya and his partner Zach Trujillo, in matching green T-shirts, move busily around the classroom. They’re part of a new internship program -- they’re paid interns, in fact, helping Denver Public Schools conduct energy audits. The district will take what they find to help build an energy savings plan for schools. In return, these students get close to real-life work experience, in this case, in the fast-growing green energy field.

Monica Schultz: Typically when you talk to people about green energy, you hear things like solar panel installer and physicist…and all these great, really interesting careers but not really careers that are really accessible for some of our students.

Reporter: Monica Schultz coordinates DPS’s ACE Career Paths program. It provides job skills to struggling students including those with cognitive, learning or physical disabilities. Schultz knew there had to be other green jobs….so she asked people in industry.

Schultz: And said, what can our kids do?

Reporter: It turns out, energy auditing.

Schultz: It’s detailed, it’s repetitive but it’s highly skilled, right, and so it makes sense for this particular group of students because once they’ve got that routine down, they’re pretty solid on being able to repeat it over and over. And they enjoy it. They feel important coming into a school and have a role and having an opportunity to be useful.

Student: As water runs, a student says 66.6.

Reporter: The students move through the classroom, taking water temperatures and light readings.

Student: This room is definitely too bright.

Reporter: There are a lot of electronic devices in the average classroom. Not always easy to tell what they are.

Trujillo: That’s a pretty small phone. It looks like it has a laser pointer.

Schultz: Oh my goodness.

Reporter: Have you guys found that there are a lot of items that you can’t identify?

Students in unison: Yes!

Reporter: There’s a job coach on hand to help out. Schultz says it’s critical these students get skills now. Once they turn 21, they can’t tap into public education services. There are long waiting lists for other support programs. Schultz says without skills, low-paying jobs like dishwashing or janitorial work are the only option. But most just wouldn’t be working. 

Reporter: This internship also teaches students skills like team work and showing up on time. Occasionally, these students are a little loose about getting to all the appliances in a room. Montoya doesn’t want to reach behind a teetering stack of stuff to get to a plug.

Montoya: Nah, I don’t want to risk it.

Reporter: His partner, Edmond Badabo tells him not to give up.

Edmond Badabo: Do it.

Montoya: OK.

Reporter: The kids prod each other on the job and help each other out.

Montoya: Zero-point-zero.

Badabo: Where can I put this? I don’t know.

Montoya: Uh, just put in the other places where computers...

Reporter: In fact, the social aspect of the internship is what the kids seem to like best. I ask student Anthoney Finch what’s the coolest thing he’s learned so far.

Anthoney Finch: Working well with others.

Finch reads a light meter: 25.1

Student: What?

Finch: 25.1

Schultz: What’s nice is that’s transferable to any job.

Reporter: Again, coordinator Monica Schultz:

Schultz: So if that kid decides eventually he wants to work in a catering company, he’s going to have to work well with others, if he works in a retail store, he’s going to have to….so that’s the beauty of it. Those skills can last a lifetime.

Reporter: Simon Montoya says someday, these skills will help him get a job, maybe even his own place--where he says he won’t waste as much energy as his family does at home.

Montoya: They leave their lights on, they leave their hallway lights on, they leave everything on. I shut them off for them.

Reporter: Have you tried to explain to them about what you’ve learned here?

Montoya: Yeah, pretty much. I try to explain to them so much. I told them, save money, save your energy, save your power, save your heater!

Reporter: That’s one more thing Montoya can add to his resume: green crusader.

[Photo: CPR]