Authentic Intellectual Experiences: Senior Internship

Whenever the topic of education comes up these days, the conversation invariably circles back to the CCSS, standardization, increased assessment, and companies who are making a fortune as a result of these initiatives. All constituencies are feeling the pressure and, in many places, parents are beginning to step up by simply refusing to allow their younger children to take standardized exams that they believe are unnecessary and designed without the students’ best interest in mind. Regardless of the place, people have strong opinions and it is certain to be a major platform for all candidates during our next series of elections.

Despite this push for increased testing and the percentiles and “levels” that come as a result, many schools continue to focus instead on the development of important 21st century skills that move beyond narrow assessment measures. Recently, I had the opportunity to join @dfdcidberry on a Tri-States consultancy in Easton-Redding (CT) that was led by Weston Middle School Principal @awatkins24. Faced with many of the same pressures due to the new SBAC exams, the Easton-Redding community has placed its focus on the development of “authentic intellectual work” with the belief that, above all else, schools must prepare students with real world skills that transfer to whatever path they choose to pursue beyond high school. In doing so, students will not only acquire the necessary skills to excel on any test that comes their way, but will also develop a passion for learning that will transcend any work that they do inside of the classroom.

Similar to Easton-Redding, our focus at DFHS is for students to not only connect their learning to the outside world, but to also gain first hand experience whenever possible. As an IB World School, the latter is accomplished for several of our students through the Creativity Activity Service (CAS) component of the Diploma Program (DP). One additional experience that we now have in place for all of our seniors is a culminating full-time internship that begins in early May until the end of the year. Under the leadership of @MrHanleyDF and @Hoffmanr2044, the internship program was restructured two years ago so that it contains many of the features of CAS while preparing students with an “authentic intellectual” experience that allows them to apply their skills in a real world setting before entering college or the workforce.

Here are some of the specific features of the program:

“Think Global, Act Local”: The vision of our internship program is rooted in the idea that all students will makes connections to the “big picture” implications of their actions while both making a difference and contributing locally. This concept is rooted in the importance of international mindedness and the belief that there are many issues that can be addressed “in our own backyard” that have global implications. Essentially, it is our hope that all students receive at least one experience that mimics CAS before graduation. In this sense, the internship is a logical culminating experience for students who are graduating from an IB World School and is directly in-line with our district mission to create “independent thinkers who are prepared to change the world.”

Real World Preparation: Without question, the most important benefit of the internship program is that it requires our students to put their educational experiences “to work” in what turns out to be a true culminating experience before graduating from high school. While our two advisors serve as superb mentors and guides, our students are ultimately responsible for developing a resume, making contacts with potential sites, setting up and going on interviews, managing their hours and time, establishing contacts, making a “lasting impression” through hard work, and chronicling their experiences via an online blog and a final legacy project. In most instances, we require that students choose an internship outside of our school so that they may step out of the “comforts” of our tight knit school community. This experience is especially important for students who are going away for college or entering the workforce or military upon graduation. In this respect, the internship experience is the ultimate performance based assessment of 21st century skills in that it requires initiative, problem solving, communication (written and oral), interpersonal skills, critical thinking, analysis, and adaptability.

Varied Experiences: In keeping with our “think global, act local” theme, students at DFHS are placed throughout Westchester County and NYC at sites that vary greatly based on interest and, in some cases, the students’ intended areas of pursuit either in college or later in life. In addition to having interns at neighboring schools, nursing homes, and local businesses, we also have students who participate in the police academy and others who work alongside town officials and local politicians. Each year, we are amazed at the types of internships that our students find for themselves and the “real world” contributions that they are able to make.

Internship Seminars: Though our students spend the majority of their time outside of the building, we do have them return to the school on specific dates for small group seminars that are facilitated by our teachers and administration. The seminars provide the students with an opportunity to reflect upon their experiences and to learn about the types of experiences that other students are having. In addition, we typically incorporate “real world” skills into the sessions (ex. organizational, interviewing, communication) and help our students to further contextualize their experiences based on the vision of the program.

Blog and Legacy Project: While the internship seminars are an excellent vehicle for communicating with students and assessing their experiences, there are of course limitations due to the number of meetings and the amount of individualized attention that can be provided to each of the students. Given that, our students regularly blog about their experiences and create a culminating legacy project that is shared online. These activities not only provide our advisors with an additional opportunity to assess our students’ experiences, but also help to build community and togetherness as our students share and learn from one another.

In many ways, our senior internship program is an ideal example of “authentic intellectual work” and it is our hope that we can provide similar experiences to students in the earlier grades. As we move to MYP, we will continue to explore these options while considering the role of the personal project and the community service aspect of the program. Please feel free to comment below with examples of authentic intellectual experiences that are taking place at your school!

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