When then-Staples High School principal John Dodig proposed a springtime Senior Internship program more than a decade ago, many people were wary.
Teachers did not want to “lose” students. Students did not want to “work” in the middle of senior slump. And what businesses, everyone wondered, would want to hire slumping seniors during beautiful May weather?
All those worries were unfounded. As the Senior Internship grew, teachers realized the benefits in having slumping students out of their classes. Students were energized by having real jobs and real responsibilities before heading to college. All kinds of businesses — retail stores, ad agencies, financial service firms, restaurants, tech companies, theaters, engineering companies, non-profits, media firms, medical offices, farms, schools, you name it — saw the value in interns.
From modest beginnings, Staples’ program exploded. Now, nearly every senior eligible — those without attendance or grade issues — participates. It’s one of the most popular, highly anticipated parts of the entire high school experience.
So what happens when a pandemic shuts school — along with nearly every business that already committed to having an intern?
Fortunately, not much. Despite all the uncertainty of the past few weeks, Staples’ program is on track to begin later this month.
Internship coordinators Michelle Howard and Denise Pearl had spent months preparing for this spring. Beginning in September they’d contacted the more than 400 sites in their database.
They’d met individually with 450-plus seniors, describing options and opportunities. (About 100 seniors design their own internships each year.)
In mid-March, everyone was looking ahead. Internships would begin as soon as AP tests ended. Students would spend 5 hours a day for 4 weeks at their sites. They’d write weekly self-reflections, and check in regularly with faculty mentors. The “real world” was about to begin.
Then the real “real world” intruded. COVID-19 upended everything.
For a couple of weeks, Howard and Pearl wondered how to salvage the program. As they fielded questions from students and sites, they realized many people wanted it to continue, in whatever ways were feasible.
The directors spoke with Staples senior class assistant principal Meghan Ward. Soon, the idea of “remote internships” took place.
Though some sites were closed, and others not conducive to working with interns, many were. Attorneys, shop owners, graphic designers, hedge fund managers — they said, “we’ll make it work.” Through teleconferences, creative ideas and other experiences, they vowed to give their interns valuable life experiences.
For example, a preschool said their intern could create an online “graduation ceremony” for their tots. The Senior Center said they’d like their intern to devise a “virtual tour” of the artwork on its walls. A realtor wants help with social media.
Even New York’s Museum of Natural History promised to keep its intern on.
“They’re all really going above and beyond,” Howard says admiringly.
Of course, not every site is able to accommodate its interns. So Pearl and Howard came up with 2 other concepts.
One is a “Do It Yourself Experience.”
“Get creative,” they say. “Design and develop a project from beginning to end.” For example, seniors could:
- Create a business that could help the world recover from COVID-19
- Write a book (poetry, short stories, children’s) about this crisis
- Paint, draw, take photos, or produce a video about it
- Build or construct something
- Read extensively, and share what they learned
- Research, or talk to experts on a subject like traditional school vs. distance learning; the emotional toll of isolation, or the effects of the coronavirus on an industry, or on social media.
The other option is an interview series, with at least 3 people. Students can then make a video, blog or podcast on subjects like careers, multi-generational voices, education, or any topic of their choice.
“It’s not the Senior Internship in its usual form,” Pearl admits. “But these are not usual times.”
The Class of 2020 has lost a lot: prom. Graduation. Even senioritis.
But they won’t lost their internships.
“I’m really proud of this program — and these kids,” Howard says.
“It’s a great experience being around 400-plus teenagers. It’s terrific working with the sites. We’ve made some great relationships.
“And those that can’t host interns remotely, they all say they want to be part of it next year.”
NOTE: Any business or individual interested in sponsoring an intern should email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible.