New Canaan High School’s senior internship program has grown sixfold since its inception four years ago—from 12 students in 2011 to 72 students this year—and additional staff will be needed to manage it when it reaches the “tipping point” of about 125 students, Susan Carroll, coordinator for the high school’s college and career center, told the Board of Education Monday night.
“As we celebrate this program’s growth and success … it’s also time to identify its future challenges,” Carroll said, adding that while the program is quite small by comparison to those of other area high schools—Greenwich, for example has more than 400 students in its internship program—it is growing very quickly, thanks to the district’s marketing efforts.
Currently New Canaan High School’s internship program is supported by a committee of about 50 people—including school staff, community members and the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce—who provide hands-on, personalized coaching and training to the interns, Carroll explained. Students participate in the program for four weeks in May-June and work about 25-30 hours per week. All the internships are non-paid and all participating businesses must be within a 15-mile radius of the high school.
“The only requirement [for a student to participate] is passing grades and attendance in good standing,” Carroll told the board. “The students are interviewed by a committee member in January, matched to a site in February and trained in workplace etiquette and resume writing in March. Grade sign-offs are in May immediately following the AP exams – and the internship begins the following Monday.”
When asked how students are placed into positions, Carroll explained that the students basically choose the type of position they want or the type of business they want work with and then the committee members do everything they can to try to get that student that internship. She said most of the time it works out, but in the event it doesn’t, alternate positions are offered, including positions at non-profits.
In addition to putting in 25 to 30 hours per week, for four weeks, the students are required keep a journal of their experience, “for which they receive a quarter credit on their final transcript,” Carroll explained. “This is their payment for work they have done – for no pay.”
Carroll added that the committee is “always looking for ways to improve the program,” and that it is actively looking for new internship sites. She said there are still “missed opportunities right in New Canaan” for students to get internships—for example, she suggested there could be numerous interns working in the town hall offices once the new building is completed. Local merchants could also provide more opportunities for internships, she said.
One concern—or at least curiosity—is the preponderance of girls in the program. Of the 72 students that participated in this year’s program, only 12 were boys, Carroll said, adding that she had no explanation why, and that other, larger programs don’t exhibit this same trend. She said she would be raise that question with the students directly and might also try marketing the program more heavily to the male students.
During the meeting there was some debate as to whether the size of the program should be limited. While the district wants to keep its internship program open to as many students as possible, there is a question as to what size is appropriate, based on the resources needed to run it.
As Board Member Alison Bedula pointed out, it’s a question of “balancing quantity with quality,” and that sometimes in order to maintain quality, a program needs to be managed by “someone else.”
“Because of our current size, we have a unique program,” Carroll said. “We have the luxury of matching interns to sites that look for interns with certain skills and interests. We are able to polish our interns through training and add to their knowledge, as we did two weeks ago during a two-hour workshop on personal branding on LinkedIn.”
“At some point you have to ask yourself, what kind of experience are you delivering?” she added.
Carroll said based on her estimate, the current support network has capacity for a maximum of about 125 interns. At the program’s current rate of growth, participation could hit that number by 2015.
Meanwhile, the committee continues to market the program.
During the meeting, three high school seniors shared with the board their internship experiences.