Sunset work-based learning teacher Pam Toney, principal Claudia Vega and student Destiny Vasquez

Yvonne Panales leaves school around midday and goes to her job at Home Depot, where she works about 25 hours a week for over $10 an hour.

The job and early release program through a class called “co-op” at Sunset High School allows her to make payments on her 2012 Nissan and fund her recent purchase of a Mac laptop.

She started as a cashier and was later promoted to the paint department. She has in interview today for head cashier. Whether she gets the job, she knows she’s ready for the interview.

“The first time, I was so nervous, and I stuttered a lot,” she says of interviewing. “But my supervisor noticed the progress I’ve made.”

Pam Toney teaches Sunset’s co-op, or work-based learning classes, where students including Panales learn how to dress professionally, how to behave at work and how to manage their money, among other real-life skills. Every semester, she brings in a professional actor who conducts mock job interviews with the students. Toney also goes to each of her students’ jobs to check up on them periodically.

For the past three years, she has organized a job fair for students, and this year’s fair drew about two-dozen companies, including Amazon and Taylor Farms. Toney is proud that many small businesses and four corporate offices were represented.

“It’s about building relationships,” she says.