Internships Spark Seniors

When 400-plus seniors earn diplomas at today’s Staples graduation they’ll smile, whoop, and feel good about reaching an important milestone in life.

But 286 of them will walk especially tall.

Moving far outside their comfort zones, they spent the final 4 weeks of senior year — a time traditionally reserved for chilling out, planning pranks and being bored — getting a taste of the real world.

They moved far beyond Staples, working at scores of sites through the school’s innovative internship program.

And “work” is the operative word.

Two students interned at the Norwalk Hour. They performed mind-numbing but necessary journalistic tasks like rewriting press releases and compiling calendars.  But they also did hands-on work:  interviewing victims of tragedies, devising story ideas, writing articles for Page 1.

One girl asked for an internship at a funeral home.   She watched an embalming and dressing; set up a room and flowers for a visitation; wrote an obituary; picked up a body from a morgue — and learned Quickbook accounting.

Larry Abel interned at Boccanfuso Brothers.

Some students worked at elementary and middle schools.  They immediately grasped the difference between sitting at desks, and standing in front of them.  They dealt with kids who didn’t want to learn, kids disrupting the cafeteria, kids having a tough time in gym.  The Staples interns — “kids” themselves a few days earlier — became adults very quickly.

Several students got a taste of financial services — in Fairfield County, and New York.  One day they were hanging out in high school; the next they were on a train, heading for a high-powered office surrounded by men and women working 14-hour days and earning 7-figure salaries.

The salutatorian interned at the Town School Office.  At first, administrators were unsure how to use him.  But he wowed them by creating graphs, charts and analyses in areas like electric consumption.  Then he worked on a residency guideline project.  Each morning he walked through the office asking for work.  Employees eagerly gave him plenty.

The list of sites is long and intriguing:  Aldrich Art Museum.  Barcelona Wine Bar.  Beardsley Zoo.  Bridgeport Hospital.  Bridgeport Police Department.  Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  Christ & Holy Trinity Church.  Connecticut Humane Society.  Cox Radio.  Cycle Dynamics.  Daybreak Nursery.  Discovery Museum.  Earthplace.  Fairfield Theatre Company.  Fairfield Veterinary Hospital.  Gault.  Land-Tech Consultants.  Levitt Pavilion.  Linda McMahon for Senate.  Ned Lamont for Governor.  Peter Coppola.  Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club.  Save the Children.  Sport Hill Farm.  Tauck World Discovery.  Terex.  Uppityshirts.  Voices of September 11.  Westport Country Playhouse.  Westport Public Library.  Yumnuts.

Students gave in-store demonstrations, created websites, farmed, and did thousands of other tasks.  They gained new knowledge, learned new skills — and occasionally taught what they knew to supervisors (and at least once to an even-newer college intern).

The 286 interns did not accomplish everything on their own, of course.  Over 100 faculty supervisors made sure they stayed on track (and worked the requisite 100 hours).  Supervisors also received weekly “reflections” from the interns, who wrote about everything from understanding office decorum to earning a nameplate on their very own cubicle.

The 100-plus site directors also played a key role.

But none of it would have been possible without the vision of principal John Dodig — who devised the idea 5 years ago, then spent 2 years selling it to an at-times-dubious faculty — and the yeowomanlike work of Joyce Eldh.  “Internship director” is a part-time job, with full-time responsibilities.  It’s a tribute to Staples — and all educators in town — that an idea like the internship can become not only a reality, but a huge success.

Most learning, the cliche goes, takes place outside the classroom.  For 12 1/2 years, Westport prepares students inside its classrooms well.

Finally, the familiar doors fling open.  Hundreds of students head toward new, unknown doors.  They have no idea what’s behind them.

But they’re ready for anything.

17 responses to “Internships Spark Seniors

  1. Darryl Coates Manning

    More than 10 years ago, we tried to institute a program like this at Staples. Consultants were hired, parents, teachers & students planned. It was tried for 1 or 2 years and then dropped. I’m very pleased to hear that this Internship program has taken off. Kudos to all!

  2. I was on that planning committee and also incredibly pleased that this worthwhile (for both students and the community) program has taken off. Well done!!

  3. Katie Chase

    There have been interns at the Westport Historical Society for the past 3 years–a name that was left off the list of locations. All 3 of the young women who interned at WHS were great assets to this organization during their short times there.

  4. I am also very pleased with the growth of this Intern program and grateful to Joyce Eldh for her hard work, dedication to the project, and sincere desire to do something meaningful for Staples seniors. I have never been shy about saying that this program should benefit more than just the students, however.

    What I hope happens over the next few years is that in order to be an Intern in this program, you have to be a viable student in all classes right up to the last day of class. Teachers at Staples actually want their seniors until graduation. There are many schools in America where faculty would love to “get rid of” their seniors for a month because they cause nothing but problems. That is not the Staples experience. Our teachers actually enjoy teaching up to the last minute.

    Senioritis is a real disease but can be handled by each senior without medication. It is simply an act of will to stay healthy knowing that the reward is the Senior Intern experience. That is what we adults want from this program along with the satisfaction of knowing that our seniors have a chance to show people outside of our school how well- educated, talented, responsible, hard-working, kind & caring they are. I want the world to know our seniors the way I and all adults in this school know them. It is a great way to end each year.

  5. Staples Underclassmen

    Although I am eagerly looking forward to getting to participate in the internship program in the future, right now I am very involved in the music department. I wonder how we have money in the budget to hire a part-time worker to run the internship program, which is completely extracurricular, yet we do not have enough money to keep a part-time secretary of one of our pre-existing departments? Seems to me it’s a bit ridiculous how we can hire and maintain an employee for the internship program yet cannot keep anyone at all in the music department.

  6. Stephen Rubin

    Congratulations to all of you that are graduating. Good luck and now go Get’em!

  7. Innocent Bystander

    Very interesting and diverse program. I am curious, however, is it an elective course of study? And the 114+ chose not to participate?
    And the 25 hours a week is in addition to their course work or is it a period of work-study completely? Go get ’em?

  8. Let me clarify a few things. First of all, Mrs. Eldh is NOT a part-time worker hired in place of someone for the Music Department. She gets a small stipend no different than what we give to a class adviser or Debate Club adviser. As an employee she would be entitled to benefits which she is not.

    The Internship program is NOT a course of study. There are no credits awarded. These students do not even come to school for the four weeks of Internship. They get up in the morning and go directly to the site. Their final grade is determined at the moment they stop going to class. The remaining students chose not to participate and continue being regular senior students for the final four weeks of school.

  9. Innocent Bystander

    Don’t get your feathers ruffled. I think it sounds like a wonderful program. In fact, I wish it was in effect when I went to Staples. We went to Vista, New York every day for lunch and a six pack of beer the last month of school. But with nearly 2/3 participating, it must be popular and I applaud any form of practical education. I would love to see it brodened to be a semester or quarter or third of work study. Kudos to you and the class of 2010!

  10. The Vista Market for lunch! The Three Pines! Oh, those wild careening drives along Rte 123 at noontime! Senioritis indeed. Kudos on this intern program. A great concept.

  11. Sounds like a great program. Now that the kids have worked for four weeks, I guess they can take the summer off.

    • Richard Lawrence Stein

      Dudley how wrong you are….many of the kids are asked to continue their tenure and are actually paid… So not only did they learn, they proved themselves and earned a place in the workforce.

      • I hope you are right but I look around at the stores in Westport and see faces from Bridgeport and not Staples.

        • Richard Lawrence Stein

          These kids were not in stores… if you look at many of the participants that were involved… these were real office jobs or behind the scenes…so THE REAL MAIN STREET…not the one running up our lovely town was utilized

          • Huh? Humane Society, Cycle Dynamics, Yacht Club, Westport Playhouse aren’t exactly Wall Street. Hey, I am not knocking it. I worked at Mitchell’s my senior year at Staples (for money!!) Best dang experience I ever had. But let’s not make it bigger than it is. Kids here rarely work and an intern is an intern. Mine used to run to the courthouse and get lost getting there.

          • Jason Peters

            This assorted comments reminds me of a story a Westport builder told me years back. He was a second generation townie and stilll has a great reputation here. One summer he decided to hire Staples football players to work his sites. Nothing heavy but some grunt work. After two weeks, he gave up on them. They either didn’t show or were late but always had some feeble excuse. The real problem was that was one of the players was his own son.

  12. I have seen up close the time, attention and dedication Joyce Eldh puts into this program. Even if I tried to describe the level of detail she gets into to make it a rewarding experience for all involved I could not do it justice. “You gotta see it to believe it!” This program shows off the best that these seniors have to offer all while giving them a chance to “road test” something they think they might be interested in pursuing in the workplace. Joyce and John, thank you for providing this program as yet another dynamic experience for our students!!