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Students learn responsibility, reap rewards during Summer Work Experience Program

Work Experience06The Education Department is giving teens a glimpse into the working world this summer through its Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP), which kicked off June 9.

More than 40 SWEP participants wake up for work Monday through Friday, clock in and out, and get treated like any other Tribal employee. The program, for high school students ages 14 to 18, has put youth to work in Tribal departments every summer since 2005.

“I wanted to learn about how adults do stuff,” said Leonna Pichardo, 14, who will be an eighth-grader at Jupiter Christian School in the fall.

Students chose a department that interested them, attended orientation like every new employee and embarked on their summer careers. Participating departments include Culture, Recreation, Housing, Seminole Media Productions (SMP) and Billie Swamp Safari. Students may transfer to other departments during the program to increase their experience.

SWEP aims to prepare students for the workforce and to expose them to employment opportunities within the Tribe.

“We have them working in areas that is like training for the future,” said Luis Yeguez, professional development program manager. “It’s been a good year; everyone is learning a lot, and the supervisors are pleased with them.”

Ethan Balentine elected to work at Billie Swamp Safari where he handles the animals, works in the gift shop and helps clean the park.

“I like it; I get to make money,” said Ethan, 14, who will be an eighth-grader at Ahfachkee School in the fall. “The anteater is my favorite animal because it can’t bite me.”

Kiara Pichardo, 15, is working with commercial artists in the SMP Business Marketing Department where she helps design business cards, fliers and T-shirts.

“I didn’t expect to do this much; I thought I’d just watch other people work,” said Kiara, who will start her sophomore year at Jupiter Christian School in the fall. “It’s better than I expected. I’m getting experience and learning from professionals.”

Leonna also chose SMP but she decided to follow the Broadcasting track. She learned about shooting video, working in a studio and editing in Final Cut Pro.

In June, she went out in the field with SMP crew members to work on a docudrama about Native American actor Saginaw Grant. She saw how each shot was composed and learned how to shoot from different angles to tell a story.

“I learned to use the camera, edited five shots, recorded stuff and watched what they did,” she said. “The biggest challenge is editing. I’m a perfectionist and like to do things well. My goal for the summer is to learn everything I can, not just the basics.”

Although she enjoyed her SMP experience, Leonna transferred to the Treasury Office.

Throughout the summer, the Education Department kept in touch with supervisors to track the students’ progress.

At the end of the program Aug. 8, students will be evaluated.

“We encourage students to take advantage of the program,” Yeguez said. “It gives them an insight into their business; the Tribe is their business.”

Ethan enjoyed his first work experience and plans to return next summer.

“I learned you have to work hard to get things done and to get a paycheck,” Ethan said. “It was a good thing to do for the summer.”


Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at