Tag Archives: Staples High School internship program

COVID Can’t Stop Staples Senior Interns

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.

From a wealth management firm …

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.)

… to Wakeman Town Farm …

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.

… to a catering company …

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.

… to a builder of energy-efficient luxury homes …

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.

… and Harbor Watch, the Staples Internship Program is a highlight of senior year.

“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 shsinternship@westportps.org as soon as possible.

This is not a 2020 photo. For many years, Staples interns have worked at hospitals, medical clinics and doctors’ offices.

Staples Interns Rock The Real World

Once upon a time, Staples High School 12th graders marked the month before graduation with boredom, pranks and trouble-making.

Now they build homes and websites. They help bakers make cakes, and bankers make money. They work in corporate offices, on sustainable farms, in recording studios and dance studios.

They use the math, writing, analytical, computer and common sense skills they’ve honed during a dozen years of school. For perhaps the first time in their lives they solve real-world problems with bosses, colleagues and clients.

They learn how to communicate — and how to commute.

On Friday, over 400 Staples seniors completed their 5-week internships. They work hard, at real work. They learn a lot, met new people, and (for the most part) had fun. Many call the program one of the most valuable experiences in their entire school careers.

On Thursday, they graduate.

Thanks to their teachers, administrators, coaches, club advisors and counselors — and their Staples Senior Internship — they’re as ready for the real world as they can be.

Colin McKechnie and Hallie Lavin capped their internship at the Weiser Kitchen by preparing and hosting a delicious party.

Claudia Lagnese does environmental work at Harbor Watch.

Alice Sardarian with a young patient at Village Pediatrics.

During their internship at Oliving Experience — a builder of energy-efficient luxury homes — Josh Berman and Teddy Lawrence worked on spreadsheets and handled social media. They also did lots of manual labor.

Faiza Qureshi gets into position at Kaia Yoga.

Becky Hoving and Jillian Stefani get into the mood for the Long Lots School field day.

Grace Wynne at Whittingham Cancer Center.


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.