New Internship Program: Benefits and Questions Arise

New+Internship+Program%3A+Benefits+and+Questions+Arise

Every school day this quarter, instead of coming to RMHS, Olivia Marchant (‘23) went to Coolidge Middle School from 8:30am to 2:30 pm. And instead of doing her own classwork and homework, she was helping a Coolidge teacher and students with their classwork and homework. 

Marchant pursued this internship because “I feel like the classes that I was taking at the high school were not directed towards my future…I was just taking them to fill credits.”

Tyler Lloyd (‘23) also chose to do an internship this quarter. He interned at Wood End Elementary because he “believed that this program would give me a good taste for what I would be in for with my future career plans.”

History and Specifics of the Program

RMHS has had a fourth quarter senior internship program for many years. According to Assistant Principal Ms. Buckley, who is in charge of the internship program this year, “the internship program was created for kids in the past who are really high achieving or really having trouble getting across the finish line.” Over the past 10 years, usually fewer than a dozen students participated in the program. 

RMHS decided to greatly expand the program this year, in part because of a new grant available to schools called the High School STEM Internship Grant. The grant pays students’ wages if their internship is considered a STEM job. According to Ms. Kate Armstrong from MassHire Metro North, which administers the grant, “ a STEM internship can be any position where students are introduced to a set of skills that require a more advanced knowledge of science, technology, education, and/or mathematics.”

I look forward to going into work everyday and I truly believe I have gotten so much out of this.”

— Tyler Lloyd ('23)

26 of the approximately 80 students at RMHS doing internships are being paid by the grant, amounting to $39,750 in total, or $1500 for each student. 

Students were also paid by a different grant if they are working at the elementary schools in Reading.  Other students not being paid through the grants were directly paid by their employers or are unpaid. 

Benefits of a Senior Internship

Ms. Buckley stated that she wanted to expand the internship program this year because it has many benefits for senior students: “The program has a lot of awesome aspects, including the chance for students to avoid the senior slide. I really wanted to make it more mainstream so that our seniors would have an opportunity to get transferable skills that would allow them to get better employed in the future by having an experience like this.”

Ms. Armstrong from MassWork agrees: “High school students benefit greatly from having hands-on internship experiences because they get to see what it’s like to actually work in a field that they’re interested in before choosing the next step in their education or career. Many of our students go into their internships with a career goal in mind, and through their internship learn about other opportunities in STEM that they never knew existed.”

Marchant said she definitely benefited from her experience. “I definitely believe this internship brought me an opportunity and experience that I would have not gotten at the high school if I didn’t participate in an internship,” she said.

Lloyd also said, “My internship specifically has been a blast. I look forward to going into work everyday and I truly believe I have gotten so much out of this, with clarifying my major [in college] decision.”

Questions about Requirements and Accountability

Despite the program’s potential benefits for students, there has been some question about the enforcement of requirements necessary to participate in the internship program this year. The requirements set by the school were listed on an email sent to the entire school. The requirements were:  “1. Submit an application by 3/16 to Ms. Buckley 2. Have higher than a C- in your classes  3. Meet the attendance expectations (less than 8.5 absences in any class) 4. Have no significant disciplinary infractions.”

However, there were some students that didn’t meet those requirements, but they were still able to participate in the program. When asked about these exceptions, Mrs. Buckley said that the administration made exceptions for people that were advocated for or referred by an adult: “Just like in real life, if someone was going to get a job, people could advocate for them, in the form of a reference letter or referral, which happened in a few instances.”

Another issue that the program has had is keeping the students who have an internship accountable for the work that they are doing. According to Mrs. Armstrong, for the students being paid by the STEM grant, “The Program Contact [Ms. Buckley at RMHS] listed by each school is required [to confirm] student hours worked.”  Currently, the program relies on students coming to the school once a week and filling out a timecard stating the hours they worked. The employers of the students do not sign off or confirm these sheets. Mrs. Buckley said that they “collect them and confirm” the times the students wrote down, though she did not say how they are confirmed.

I know a couple of people that exploit it.”

— Gryffin Stoddard ('23)

Some senior students who did not pursue internships claimed they were aware of a small number of their peers who were not actually completing the hours required and/or not actually working during those hours. They claim that some of those students were even getting paid through the STEM grant despite not working or working enough. 

Gryffin Stoddard (‘23) said, “I have lots of negative opinions on the internship program, as I know a couple of people that exploit it. They get their hours signed off by relatives or family members. They actually don’t do the internship that they’re said to be doing.” Because some students aren’t doing the work, Stoddard said,  “I think it’s really unfair for us [students who did not do an internship] to have to stay here and to do schoolwork.” 

Olivia Fiorenza (‘23) agreed: “We have to come to school everyday and maintain our grades but the people on the internship can decide whether they want to come that day or not, knowing that they won’t get in trouble regardless.”

Students who went to their internships every day and did the work were equally frustrated. Marchant said,  “I am aware of this fact [that some students were not completing their duties] and it makes me sad that people have taken it for granted.”

Future of the Internship Program 

Despite the issues this year, administrators and students still think the internship program should continue, but with more requirements and check-ins. 

Ms. Buckley said that she plans to do the program again next year. but that, “we want to have site visits when we can just check on everybody.” 

Stoddard thinks it’s ok to keep the program, “But, I think they should really edit it for next year so the kids next year are not allowed to do any of the exploits with it.” 

Marchant added: “This program should definitely be kept within the high schools administration and that even though it was a rough start, I think most of us really enjoyed this opportunity.”