As the Class of 2009 joins its 123 predecessors, it’s traditional to look both backward and forward. This morning I’m gazing in both directions, through Staples’ internship program.
Though only 2 years old, it already involves 1/3 of the senior class. Instead of sleepwalking through the final days of high school, they spend the last month of school scattered across Fairfield County. Interns work at financial services firms and marketing corporations; in elementary classrooms and restaurants; for veterinarians and the Interfaith Housing Association.
For the 1st time in their lives, these teens are given real-world responsibilities. Students join the program with trepidation — why give up a month of senior slump? — while employers fear that supervising teenagers will drain their own energy and productivity.
Those worries prove unfounded. Interns and supervisors alike rave about the experience. Students work hard, and thrive; employers are jolted by their freshness and new perspectives.
But the true value of the internship program is less tangible. It proves that Westport’s educational process — from elementary and middle school, on through the final semester of high school — works.
Despite budget battles, political wrangling, curricular changes and all else buffeting education today, our young people acquire the tools, insights and confidence to leave school, enter the workplace and make a mark.
That is no small accomplishment. But it is not the schools’ alone. Westport — all of us, in this community — can take a bow for getting our teenagers where they are today. Somehow, some way, we create an environment that allows our youngsters to grow into competent, caring, compassionate human beings.
It has been said that the greatest gifts a young person can receive are roots and wings. It’s not easy — and it takes a long time — but our schools and town provide that soil, and offer that space.