KSDE Weekly

Feature Story

Youth apprenticeship leads Highland Park High School graduate to new career path

Youth apprenticeship leads Highland Park High School graduate to new career path

Eighteen-year-old Reylli Lopez most likely would have been on a different career path had he not taken a step outside of his comfort zone and become the first-ever, state-paid youth apprentice. 

It was the spring semester of 2022, and Lopez, a junior at Highland Park High School, Topeka Unified School District 501, heard talk of a new state-paid youth apprenticeship program that promoted college and career readiness. 

Topeka USD 501, the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) worked together to create the first state-paid youth apprenticeship program. 

At that time, Lopez was heavily involved in music. He played cello in the school’s orchestra, participated in modern band, and played piano and guitar. 

Going into a career where he would fix computers and help ensure the safety of Kansas students by protecting their data wasn’t even on the teen’s radar. 

Lopez had watched his older brother, Carlos, tinker with technology and fix computers in his bedroom. So, Reylli began to consider applying for the apprenticeship being offered through KSDE’s (IT) department. 

“I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to give it a shot,’” Lopez said. 

Lopez’s application was selected, and he had to go through an interview process. 

He received the apprenticeship and began working in early April 2022. He spent two hours per school day at KSDE. The apprenticeship paid $10 per hour, and Lopez simultaneously earned high school credit and a certificate in Information Technology. 

Lopez graduated from HPHS in 2023 and began college classes at Washburn University in Topeka. He also was hired as a full-time KSDE technology support technician, something his mentors and co-workers are happy about. 

“I have watched Reylli grow from being a timid high school junior who was uncertain about information technology as a career path to a young man who exudes confidence in himself and the technology work he is doing,” said Kathi Grossenbacher, KSDE’s IT director. “His grit, determination and desire to learn are probably the biggest factors in his success. It is a true joy to observe Reylli’s journey and witness his growth.” 

Grossenbacher and Tim Enneking, an enterprise security specialist in the KSDE IT department, encourage other agencies and businesses to take part in apprenticeships. 

“Youth apprenticeships are solid postsecondary options for students to learn industry-specific knowledge and skills while earning valuable credentials they can utilize to advance into successful careers,” Grossenbacher said. “Youth apprenticeships provide an opportunity for businesses to grow the next generation of workers based upon career interests. This is beneficial because the apprenticeships can be tailored to meet the needs of the business or organization. If there are areas in which there are skills or resource gaps, an apprenticeship that focuses on those skills can be a great solution to fill those gaps. If businesses or teams within organizations have a grow-your-own culture, as our IT team does, the ability to develop apprentices as we need them and continue to develop them once the apprenticeship ends means we end up with an employee who understands our needs. It’s no secret that employers in IT, education, health care and advanced manufacturing face staffing challenges to meet industry needs, and youth apprenticeships should be viewed as one potential answer to that challenge.” 

Apprenticeships also are beneficial in that they can help the apprentice develop soft skills, master competencies that are valuable assets and provide an understanding of real-world experience in a particular field, she added. 

Apprenticeships are a “great opportunity for an individual who has the drive and wants to succeed within the field” of the apprenticeship, Enneking added. 

“If an agency has the resources to host an apprenticeship, it’s as simple as building positive energy and giving it back to the community,” he said. 

Eric Dehner, a technology support consultant in KSDE’s IT department, enjoys working with Lopez, and the two have formed somewhat of a bond, often going to lunch together and exchanging light-hearted quips. 

“It has been awesome seeing him come here and grow,” Dehner said. 

When starting his apprenticeship, Lopez wasn’t sure how he would get along with older co-workers. Now, he’s happy to report that he’s friends with many of them and enjoys the opportunity to learn from them. 

“I thought there would be a barrier,” he said. “But we’re all people at the end of the day.” 

Lopez hasn’t given up his music. He still enjoys playing the piano and guitar. However, he now does it more for stress relief or as a hobby. 

And he said, he is happy and feels like he has already accomplished so much in his lifetime. 

“This opened new doors,” Lopez said. “It’s now a career path. Things changed, and I found a new light, which is technology. It has changed me, completely changed me. Take those opportunities that come your way. Take them now because they may not be available later.” 

Posted: Jan 11, 2024,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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