Dennis Killion, a Youth Provider and Special Education teacher at Apple Valley High School, shares some challenges he has faced in aiding and supporting at-risk young adults during a pandemic.
With 31 years of teaching experience, Killion coordinates two state-funded programs: the Workability Program and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
He works with young adults, ranging from 17 to 22 years old, to provide them lessons on life skills and job employment readiness.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the services that you provide to young adults?
A: It has changed a little bit due to COVID, I have gotten a lot of younger kids who are deficient in credits. The way it has impacted us the most is with employers. A couple of the largest employers we work with are the local hospitals. In past years, we typically put 20 to 25 kids at those locations in different departments throughout those hospitals. All of those hospitals suspended student internships and paid work experience since the pandemic started.
Q: What kind of changes were made to adapt to COVID-19?
A: All of our pre-employment courses have been online. Orientation and pre-employment skills training also have been. Aspects of this situation that we have gone through have forced us to improve parts of our services, especially in terms of the ability to reach out online. We’ve learned to become more adept and efficient. We have to use phones, Google Classroom, and Zoom more often now. Overall, we are better off without being confined by the restrictions that COVID has put on us.
Q: Is there any difference in supporting young adults between the pre-pandemic period and now, during a pandemic?
A: The biggest issue is connecting with the people in my district, that I normally connect with, to send me clients that they would recommend. When we left school last year in March, a lot of counselors and teachers in other programs became very hard to connect with to get candidates for WIOA. Everyone was burdened with all of the other things that they were doing. We have had a number of kids that were supposed to leave and pursue other career opportunities but had to stay in the area, so we have picked up some kids that way.
Q: How has mental health impacted you and the young adults during COVID-19?
A: It certainly has affected the kids in our youth program. They do not have as much pep in their lives, or things to have a well-rounded and balanced life that requires more than just working. I think that is what is affecting our kids, the absence of social interaction. From a personal standpoint, it has affected me as a parent since I have two high school kids that go to Apple Valley High School. Seeing them have to go through this has affected me but more as a father and as a parent.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say that you believe is important for young adults to know at this moment?
A: If you are a young adult, you should be preparing and investing your time into doing the best that you can. Many kids think that the negative mental effects of the pandemic are never going to stop and the reason I know is because I work with kids who are in credit recovery. If you were a good student prior to this and got out of a routine, you need to get back to those good habits that you developed prior. It is very easy to get complacent in this environment and my advice would be to not become complacent. Fill your days with things that are productive. It can be something as simple as physical activity, turning the TV off and reading a book, or applying online to a job. As far as resources are concerned, I don’t think there are any available resources that weren’t out here before that are out here now. There are things like mental health services, WIOA Youth Providers that need young adults, and the county needing to fill more spots for these programs. It is how you, as an individual, as a youth, are going to stand up to this challenge.