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High School Internships for All: A Five-Step Process

Editor's Note: Chaney Mosley, Assistant Principal at Nashville Big Picture High, helps facilitate internship opportunities for all of his students. Here, he shares tips to help students and schools navigate the internship process. 

By guest blogger Chaney Mosley

In many states, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has placed increased emphasis and accountability measures on ensuring high school graduates are college and career ready. Early college credit opportunities coupled with career and technical education (CTE) coursework offer promise for reaching that objective.  

internships.pngGiven that more than 40 percent of college students in public four-year institutions change their major at least once, high school students need authentic exposure to careers that will allow them to make better informed decisions when identifying a major. Securing an internship while in high school allows students to discover their interests and experience the world of work before it costs them time and money in college.

At Nashville Big Picture High School (NBPHS) in Tennessee, students attend the brick-and-mortar school three days per week. On the other two days, they report to work at an internship site under the supervision of a local employer. Securing internships for high school students can be a heavy lift, but we follow a five-step process to help students pursue their passions to college and a career. A two-day internship program is likely not be feasible in all high schools; however, internship models can be adapted to fit a variety of educational settings. This five-step process, outlined below, can help both teachers and students think about how they might approach the internship search.  

Step 1: Writing and Rehearsing
To prepare students for reaching out to a potential internship site, start by having them craft a resume. Most 14-year-old students have limited experiences to boast of on paper, but completing the workplace skills matcher will reveal personal qualities potentially valuable to an employer. In addition to writing a resume, students should create scripts that can be used when making cold calls or introducing themselves through email. Prior to calling any business, students must rehearse their script—roleplay with a teacher or fellow students helps ensure students are ready for the next step.

Step 2: Making Contact
Once their resume is in good condition and students have practiced a verbal script, they should create a list of 20 different employers, including contact information, in which they are interested. Prior to this, students should have completed a career interest inventory to discover appealing opportunities. Using a map, ask students to plot the location of each business identified and consider the possibilities for getting to that site from their home. Then, allow students to begin making calls, ensuring they keep a call log and record notes from conversations. During the initial contact, students introduce themselves and inquire about scheduling an informational interview. 

Step 3: Informational Interview
Informational interviews are helpful for students to learn more about a specific career field and organization, and they can occur over the phone or face-to-face. Prior to the interview, students create a list of questions they will ask and have the questions vetted by a teacher. Questions may focus on educational requirements, job responsibilities, organizational climate, and myriad other aspects of a job. By the end of the interview, students should be able to determine if they are interested in a particular organization. If so, they can conclude the interview by inquiring about completing a job shadow.

Step 4: Job Shadow
Once a job shadow has been scheduled, students should negotiate goals with a teacher about what will be accomplished during the experience. During a job shadow, students may interview other employees in the organization, consider a variety of career fields within that company, observe people at work, and, if possible, engage in some aspects of the work. The job shadow allows students to determine if a place might be a good fit for a sustained internship site. If so, it will be time to make the ask. 

Step 5: Securing the Internship
Throughout the internship search, students can revise their resume to better reflect the industry in which they are hoping for placement, using key words and phrases associated with it. The informational interview and job shadow are an opportunity for students to start forming a relationship and making an initial impression. Asking a business if they are willing to host a high school student for an internship requires students to put their best foot forward. When asking for an internship, students should hand over their resume and explain why they would like to work at the specific location. They also need to outline what the internship would look like, including when they would report to work, which teacher from the school would be the point of contact, and importantly, the importance of the internship to their education. At this point, the supervising teacher would schedule a setup meeting with the potential mentor to formalize the arrangement.

When considering our internship practice, visitors often ask:

What do teachers do while students are at their internships
On days that students are interning, teachers travel throughout the city and meet with students and mentors. During these meetings, they establish learning goals and design projects for students to complete. Meeting with mentors allows teachers to monitor student performance and employability skills development.

How long does an internship last?
Students begin internships in ninth grade. Once an internship is secured, we expect them to stay at one internship site for at least nine weeks before switching to another location. Most students will maintain the same internship for the duration of a school year, although some will change multiple times.

Do students earn credit for their internships
Students are enrolled in a credit-bearing course aligned with participation in the internship. Performance at the internship site, mentor evaluations, attendance, and projects, among other factors, contribute to the grade students earn. Because students earn credit, all internships are unpaid, though some students secure paid employment at the end of the school day or during the summer at their internship sites.

NBPHS is aligned with Big Picture Learning. As such, our school is designed around 10 distinguishing characteristics, including learning through interests and internships. We believe internships allow students to apply lessons from school in a real-world setting, which reinforces the relevance of their core classes.  

By the time graduation rolls around, our students are better prepared to select a major course of study in college. And should they choose to immediately enter the workforce, they have four years of work, a network of industry professionals, and a resume of experiences that will help them secure a position in their chosen field. And the timing is right! As reported in the Wall Street Journal, with current labor shortages, many companies are now looking to teens to help fill the void caused by a shortage of workers. Through internships, high school students are better prepared to make postsecondary plans, are more informed about the world of work, and have a deeper understanding of global perspectives and how companies align with various cultural influences. 

Connect with ChaneyBig Picture LearningHeather, and the Center for Global Educationon Twitter.

Quote image created on Pablo.

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