St. Paul police officer helps students find internships

A St. Paul police officer is going beyond his school resource duties, finding students summer internships that will lead to jobs.

Officer Toy Vixayvong is introducing under-privileged and at-risk youth to building trades, thanks to a partnership with the Minnesota Trades Academy.

“I want to show them that there’s something out there other than the streets,” said Vixayvong, a school resource officer at Como Park High School in St. Paul. “I want them to be a productive part of the community.”

Vixayvong said he meets many kids who don’t have the desire, the grades or the money to attend college, yet the veteran officer noticed high school educators putting a large focus on four year degrees.

“It’s not that I don’t like school, it’s just that school’s not for me,” said Deshawn Sparkmen who recently graduated from Como Park High School. “He [Vixayvong] kind of knew what I was going through in my past and he talked to me, told me, 'there’s this program, I think you’ll like it.'”

Sparkmen, along with 13 other Como Park students and recent graduates, is participating in a nine-week program that introduces teens to various building trades. By the end of the program, they’re offered apprenticeships with partner companies in the trade they choose.

After a few weeks, Sparkmen said he’s leaning towards a career in roofing. The teen admits he never thought a well-paying job with great benefits was a possibility for him. Now, he’s looking optimistically toward his future. 

“When I envisioned my life in high school, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was just stuck,” he said. “I’ve never thought I’d be doing something like this and now I have an opportunity to make really good money.”

Vixayvong also drives the students to and from the internship locations, using a large police transport van, as many have transportation issues.