GOOD, BETTER, BEST

By Cleo Crank, Teacher, Greenville Technical Charter High Schools, Greenville, SC

“You haven’t made a fire till it has burned.

You haven’t made a dollar till it’s earned,

And no teaching has transpired,

If the child has not acquired,

You haven’t taught a child till he has learned.”

 

Swen Nater, NBA star player Inspired by John Wooden

InternsWorking

Interns Working in Groups

High school seniors often excel in factual knowledge, but fall short in key academic behaviors. How can we better prepare our students for the “real world” of college and work? Greenville TCHS’s career internship program promotes a college career culture and helps make the senior year one that is challenging and meaningful.

“You can be anything you want to be!” Parents and teachers promote this idea every day. It is the American dream….. Right? The problem is, wanting something is not the same as achieving it, anymore than talent is the same as accomplishment. I will never be the next Monet. No matter how many watercolor classes I take or pictures I paint, it is not going to happen. My talent does not match my desire. Unless my dreams match my strengths, I will fail. We have all had students who want to be doctors, lawyers, astronauts, yet they cannot write a good paragraph or complete simple math equations. What about the students who have little aspiration but tons of talent and ability? Are we doing these students a service by encouraging them to be “ANYTHING YOU WANT”? Not really. How can teachers help students maintain their aspirations within a viable, realistic doable frame? Creating the Internship Program at GTCHS gave me the perfect venue to do just that.

Five years ago, I approached our principal about the possibility of starting an Internship program as an alternative to our required senior project. He suggested I do some research to see what other schools around the country were doing. I went to several conferences, talked to local businessmen, and read several articles and books on college/career readiness. Across the board, everything was positive but limited in practical application.

I was left to my own devices to create a program to meet our needs. I spent a summer putting together the current program that is designed for motivated high school seniors interested in a structured, on-the-job learning activity. In providing experiences in workplace settings, students develop workplace competencies, work amicably and productively with others, and acquire knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need to be successful citizens in the 21st century. Students gain hands-on experience by working with professionals in their select career cluster. At the work site, students are supported by a company employee (community mentor) who directs their work and learning. To connect the work experience to school, each student sets college readiness goals.

Students undertake this internship program for a variety of reasons. As a form of independent study, students enjoy the opportunity to engage in a learning experience that augments classroom learning and extends beyond the traditional classroom walls. An internship is an excellent tool for testing out a career interest, giving students first-hand knowledge of a particular professional field. Most important, youth gain real work experience while learning how to conduct themselves in a professional workplace environment. They observe first-hand how skills relating to decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork and technology are employed on the job.

Greenville’s internship program is two semesters long. Most students come to the Internship program with some idea about a career. However, they spend the first three weeks doing on-line personality and career interest inventories. They reflect on the suggestions given by the inventories and how these suggestions influence their career choices. In addition, students do research on their top three college choices. They learn about required SAT scores, other admission requirements, degrees offered, tuition and fees, and availability of student aid. They chart their research and decide on colleges to visit.

During their internship time, students set both college and career goals each quarter and reflect on their progress at the end of each quarter. They also keep daily logs of their work experiences. In all of these reflections, one sees an upward curve of engagement. Students go from generalized ideas about their career and colleges to attend, to very specific career pathways and decisions on the college to attend. One sees the increased engagement in the internship as students go from being primarily observers to full-scale involvement in their work, complete with questions and suggestions for/from their mentors. In their writings you can just see their goals becoming much more specific and targeted and the upward curve of their own involvement in the internship.

In the relatively short time that the program has been in existence, the pool of mentors has greatly increased. In some cases, students or parents seek out mentors. In other cases, previous mentors are more than willing to work with new students. Mentors have had overwhelming positive experiences with students who are excited about their industry and the pleasure of learning about those careers.

I have some incredible success stories. Zach never had any intention of earning a bachelor’s degree. He wanted to work for the sheriff’s department and investigate crime scenes. After interviewing several professionals, he visited the Coroner’s office and did his placement there. Because of his success, he now wants to go to

Zach-Learning

Zach learning “hands on”

med school and become a pathologist. Devin knew he wanted to become a civil engineer. His mentor was not only a Kevinprofessional engineer but also taught upper level engineering classes at a Clemson University. Devin was able to participate in the University Engineer’s day along with the graduate students. Rebeccah did her placement at a high-end restaurant, was offered a summer job there and is headed to culinary school next semester. Kevin had his heart set on atten­ding the Air Force Academy and com­pleting Combat Rescue Officer School. Through the Internship pro­gram, he com­pleted more than 200 hours with the Emergency Medical Services and participated inall the emer­gency calls while with his mentor. Although Kevin did not get accepted into the Academy, he went to Clemson through the ROTC program and plans to attend Officer Candidate School upon graduation. He is right on target.

Students are assessed in a variety of ways. As part of the requirements, students research their particular career, set monthly goals, keep a daily log, and complete the required number of hours on site. At the end of the year, they meet for “conversation” with their advisor, another faculty member, the mentor and a colleague of the mentor. These four adults have the privilege of hearing about the student’s learning experience and conclusion about the career.

Feedback over the last three years has been very positive. In 2010 when the program began, I started with 20 students. The next year I had 22, and this year there are 31. The program is working. It is a win-win for all involved. The students begin to see a clear path, parents recognize a new sense of maturity and responsibility, the mentor is most impressed with our students, and I have the pleasure of watching all this unfold each year. On the last day for seniors each year, I have a seminar in which the students give me feedback about the experience. Most of the adjustments that have been made come directly from student suggestions. I even have mentors call me now to see it there is a student for this year. WOW!