In a struggling economy, people who have the most trouble getting jobs are those with the least experience, skills and education — high school students. To boost chances of these wannabe workers, a high school in Maize has implemented an internship program that has students working for experience.
The 57 students from Complete High School Maize are doing facials at Eric Fisher Academy and Xenon’s, organizing samples at Law Kingdon Architecture and holding critical-care babies at Via Christi and Wesley Medical Centers.
The internship idea grew from an annual job-shadow day at the school where students shadowed a person in a career they were interested in for one day.
“Last spring, when I asked for students who were interested in having a job shadow, everyone raised their hands,” said Kristy Custer, assistant principal. “My first thought was, ‘There’s no way I can get these all set up by myself.’ My second thought was ‘If we’re going to call all of these employers, let’s see if we can do this for more than one day.’ ”
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Staff members found businesses that would take the student interns for two hours a day, three times a week, for nine weeks.
“It took an extreme amount of time and energy to find internships for the students, but when I called most companies, they were excited about our program and very willing to help if they could,” said Heidi Albin, a science teacher.
Students interned at 34 businesses including Sedgwick County Zoo, Sedgwick County EMT, Walgreens Pharmacy, Mid-America Power Sports and KWCH TV.
Once the internships were arranged, the staff tackled how to get 57 students from Maize to their jobs in Wichita and surrounding towns.
“One of the things that makes our program unique from other school internship programs is that teachers not only intensely monitor the students, but we also provide transportation to and from the internships,” Custer said. “Our transportation department bent over backwards to help us make this program a success. It wouldn’t have worked had they not supported us.”
The school also provided insurance for the students in case they were injured on the job.
Staff members spent the first semester working with students on job etiquette, resume writing, interviewing and employer expectations. The students were given a list of guidelines. On the list: no eating on the job, turn off cellphones, accept supervision graciously, and conduct yourself in a dignified and courteous manner.
“The teachers of CHSM have been very adamant about letting the students know that this is in fact a very big deal,” said Jeremy Baker, senior intern with Sedgwick County EMS.
Students were also taught how to dress. Every work place has a different dress code; some are more laid-back then others. The school provided clothing for some students.
Students practiced in mock interviews and listened to weekly career speakers talk about what really happens in their chosen career fields.
Through the internships, some students learned that the fields they chose were not what they thought.
“I have always wanted to be a photographer. Through my internship I realized that photographers spend a lot more time on the computer editing, taking orders and sending out prints than actually taking pictures,” said Ashley Compass, intern at Avion Photography.
These experiences were exactly what staffers were hoping for when the internships began.
“To me, learning what you don’t like doing is more important than learning what you like. If something is ‘OK,’ I don’t mind doing it, but if I hate doing something, I don’t ever want to do it again,” Custer told her class.
For many of the students, the internship is their first job.
“As my first job experience it was hard at first because I’m very shy,” said Brett Woodruff, an intern for Truck Parts and Equipment. But once he worked there awhile, he got used to it, he said, and “I started to have a lot of fun.”
Employers have provided feedback to students. Halfway through and at the end of the program, the students are required to provide their employer with an intern evaluation.
“She is only here two hours a day three times a week, it’s hard to show somebody in that short of time, but she’s delightful,” said Connie Harms from Law Kingdon Architects about intern Alex Wilson.
Some strong points listed by the employers include: looking the part, completing assignments, and having a good, positive and fun attitude.
Parents also appreciated the opportunities for the students.
“This experience has been a valuable preview of the world of work for my daughter who has never had a job before,” said Dona Gibson, whose daughter, Danielle, is interning with Design Gallery.
The school hopes to continue the internships next year to give students an early start on planning careers.
“This program has made me really start to think about what I’m going to do with my life in the future and given me an idea of what I don’t want to do as well as what I could be really good at,” said Lauren Miller, a senior interning at the Maize Education Support Center accounting department.