In 2002 I was the internship coordinator at a newly opened charter school where every single student, starting in ninth grade, had an internship two days a week at a local business, hospital, city agency or non-profit. Here are three scaffolded steps that anyone can follow to gain an internship for their student, regardless of whether the student is enrolled in a public, private, online or homeschool.
Step One: Students Make Phone Calls
It’s daunting for ninth graders to make calls to request shadow days and to interview people with whom they think they’d like to have an internship — I mean think about it. Many 14-year olds haven’t ever placed a formal phone call. How do they engage with that stranger on the other end of the line to compel that person to answer questions about their work?
You don’t just tell a 14-year old to go write a bunch of questions and to call around. They need to practice — first with each other to build beginning confidence and then with a low-stakes adult (like their teacher, parent, or internship coordinator) where they can get more challenging feedback. Some students are so nervous placing their first call to request just a phone interview that they want their adult helper to be right by their side, smiling, nodding, and coaching. Or even at a moment of panic, to take over the phone conversation with the adult on the other end.
Here’s the thing — the more nervous the student is about placing this type of phone call, the more elated they are once it’s done. Mission accomplished. Success! Real-world. Authentic. It’s a growth milestone. The next call is easier, and the third call is a breeze.
Step Two: Students Experience a Shadow Day
So after a student has done a couple phone interviews, it’s time for them to spend a Shadow Day at a workplace. A whole entire day, like from 9 am until about 2 pm. The students’ work on a Shadow Day is to observe, take notes, and get all their pre-prepared questions answered. But here are a few other things that they worry and wonder about: what should I wear? where is the bathroom…