SCHOOL POST-INTERNSHIP ACTIVITIES
The internship is the capstone of the Academy experience. For students it is a defining episode in their educational journey. These young adults are not the same after they have proven their mettle in the adult workplace. Even a superficial comparison of the student before and after the internship reveals the tremendous maturation that has almost always occurred. The most notable manifestation of the positive growth engendered by the internship is the self-confidence evinced by the students—esteem based on a solid foundation of achievement. For the Academy director or coordinator the challenge is to tap into this growth and use it, on the one hand, to further benefit the student and program, and on the other, to enhance the Academy’s relationship with the private sector. The momentum created by the internship must be carried over into the senior year—to counteract the inevitable let-down, i.e., incipient senioritis, and to create new incentives for involvement by all stakeholders.
A starting point for the director is the thank-you card or letter. If the Academy leader is a classroom teacher with daily access to the NAF senior class, it is a simple matter to remind the students how effective an individualized letter or card can be in cementing relationships begun during the internship. This is best done within a very short time after the last day of work and the beginning of the new school year. Directors of multi-site programs need to visit the senior class in each school and remind those who had internships to write thank-you notes if they haven’t as yet done so.
What is true for the student is equally true for the Academy director. Expressions of appreciation may take many forms: a letter of thanks to Advisory Board members, with copies to the CEO if not the same individual; recognition ceremonies, where sponsors receive certificates or plaques; and letters to local newspapers thanking individuals and firms for their support. Any publicity that can be developed and disseminated highlighting the contributions of the private sector helps to create the kind of relationship that augurs well for the availability of internship slots the following year and beyond.
After these niceties, debriefing the internship takes center stage. Students will have submitted written reports about their experience upon returning to school in September. These may or may not be graded by the coordinator or director, but they definitely should be read and annotated. Student reports often reveal things unknown to the director, however astute, and they may be useful in identifying strengths and weaknesses of the internship. The director should also read the evaluations sent in by the internship supervisors. Suggestions for improvement as well as commendations for achievement help the director to focus on goals being met or missed.
Two debriefing strategies are available to the director. One is to conduct private interviews with the student. This technique allows an in-depth look at the experience. By skillful questioning the director should be able to get a good picture of how the student fared during the internship. These sessions are time-consuming, however, and may become somewhat enervating if there are many students to interview. A group-interview offers a viable alternative. Not only does this technique lessen the amount of required time, but it allows students to interact with each other and the director. In a group interview students can share their views and learn about their classmates’ experiences. It affords the opportunity for these Academy seniors to apply newly learned communication skills in a non-threatening setting. Groups of five to seven are optimal in size and provide enough diversity to engender genuine exchanges of opinion. A session may last forty minutes. The director should have the participants introduce themselves at the beginning and briefly describe where they worked and what they did. With the introductions out of the way—no more than a few minutes to break the ice—the discussion should focus on such questions as: What did you like best about the internship? What was the worst thing that happened to you? Did the internship impact your friendships with non-Academy students? How are you different today than you were before the summer? Did the internship change the way your parents/guardians relate to you? What did you do with the money you earned? What effect has the experience had on your plans for the future? Questions like these will get students talking among themselves and genuinely communicating.
A larger audience than the immediate Academy program members should be reached in spreading the word about the internships. Seniors should be encouraged to write pieces for the school newspaper or for the Academy newsletter. Every student, teacher, and parent will then be able to read about the internship and its positive effects. This publicity helps build program awareness and identity. Seniors should also be called on to assist in the Academy’s recruitment process. Students listen more carefully to other students than to adults—and there is nothing like a mature, self-assured, well-dressed NAF senior talking to middle schoolers, freshmen, or sophomores about the tangible benefits of Academy participation. Directors will also find it beneficial to use internship-experienced seniors in interactive sessions with visiting educators or business people. Taking these students to Advisory Board meetings—and having them talk about their internships—validates for private sector sponsors that their efforts and money have been well spent.
Seniors will also find it pays to highlight their internship in college admissions essays and scholarship applications. They will have developed personal contacts among their internship co-workers and supervisors, and secured written recommendations or the promise of one. This kind of corporate work experience is still rare among high school youth, and Academy students will have a big leg up on the competition. The director should allude to this benefit when conducting senior orientations at the beginning of the school year. Another positive byproduct of the summer internship is the opportunity for part-time employment at the sponsoring firm during the student’s senior year. Even if the firm lacks the budgetary capability for a large number of part-time hours, their managers may be willing to bring the senior back for work during extended holiday breaks. Again, it is the responsibility of the director to encourage students to take advantage of every opportunity stemming from their work experience. Continuing to network with one’s workplace contacts is a bit of advice that the Academy director should repeat at every opportunity. Greeting cards, an occasional phone call, e-mails, and even a visit during days when school is not in session will all contribute to a quality networking effort that will pay dividends in the future.