Doctor, architect or magician: Student internships help high-schoolers begin finding their passion
The ideal internships tap into any interest a student wants to pursue, illuminating possible career paths
Correction: In a previous version of this story Brenda Messervy was misidentified. She is a teaching assistant in The Enrichment Center at Weston High School in Massachusetts.
Brenda Messervy is rarely surprised anymore by the kind of internships seniors at Weston High School in Massachusetts secure for their final three weeks of school. Many students find positions with firms local to the Boston area (Weston is about 15 miles west of the city), while other students travel as far as China and Japan.
The internships are meant to give students a window into a future career that interests them before they start college — perhaps architecture, medicine or even, yes, the job of an illusionist.
“I had a student who wanted to be magician and I had never had that happen before,” Messervy, a teaching assistant in Weston High School's Enrichment Center, said in an interview. “The student came up with name of someone they’d seen on Ellen DeGeneres, and I reached out to that person in Los Angeles and they agreed to let them do an internship for three weeks. They even continued for the summer.”
It’s long been understood that a student’s education is not made up of what they glean solely in the classroom. Children head out in to the world early, whether that’s during a field trip, or a summer learning program through a local library. Internships, which typically crop up during the later part of their high school years, are another opportunity for children to see how their learning plays in the wider world, helping them understand why they learned algebra, studied grammar rules and examined the structure of our civil society.
There are numerous ways students can find internships. While Messervy's role helps high school students find positions, they can also go online and often find opportunities in a wide variety organizations, whether that’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Alamos National Laboratory or the National Park Service. Students interested in the arts can apply to be a high school intern at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, or those who have an inkling that they may want to be an engineer can check internships offered at Northrop Grumman.
Working through the red tape
While Weston High’s internships are traditionally three weeks long, and are completed during the final weeks of the senior year, some students go longer, as did the magician’s apprentice. No matter the amount of time, the internship process is taken very seriously at the school, and parents have to sign permission slips, with the town having to also agree that students are covered by insurance particularly if a student goes out of state.
Messervy said that administrators need to put in some prep work before launching an extensive internship program, and that there’s a challenge to make sure every detail is covered. Students too need to understand that their internship is a responsibility they need to manage on their own, as companies are counting on them to show up.
“There are administrative needs to be look at, from insurability to getting electronic signatures in lieu of paper copies,” she said. “And you need to know where a child is. I’ll get a call from a company that a student didn’t show up, the parents are at work and assumed they went, but the child is home with a fever and forgot to call.”
That’s one of the reasons Weston High School starts working with students in their sophomore year, where they meet during a semester-long class a couple times to give them idea of what an internship will entail — and what they may actually want to pursue when they graduate. Grading is pass or fail, however, so that the children focus more on career exploration and less on how the course will impact the college process.
In Township High School District 214 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, Krista Paul, assistant director of career and technical education, manages the high school internship program. During the 2017-18 school year, students held 2,550 internships, and Paul said in an interview that her team is on target for 2,700 internships for this current school year.
Multiple internships are, in fact, a possibility for students, and there are 30-hour micro internships available which allow high schoolers to get a taste of what a career could be — and hopefully say, “Yes, I do want to learn more,” she said.
Students apply to internships based around 16 career clusters, and there is a very formal process. which includes getting parent and teacher recommendations, an interview process and completing an application. Courses students have taken while in school may play a role in determining if they’re selected, especially if an internship they are applying to requires some prior knowledge in a specific field or subject.
The goal of the program is not to match a student to the exact career path they'll end up taking, but to help them make decisions — even if that’s finding out a long-held interest is not the best career path after all.
“We have a lot of students who go through the internship and it may solidify their interest, or it may open their eyes that this isn’t for me,” said Paul. “And both are outcomes that are optimum.”
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