During March, our writers will be discussing Internationals’ second core principle: experiential education. This week, Lara Evangelista, assistant principal of The Flushing International High School, talks about internship and its effect on their students.
It’s that time of year again. Although I am no longer an advisor in an internship program, I can always tell when it is in the air. The first sign is the buzz in the hallway of the twelfth grade classrooms, the anxious questions, the eager faces, the nervous energy. Next I notice the unusually quiet classrooms, normally filled with twelfth grade swagger, which now have students listening intently as teachers tell them about the adventure ahead of them. Slowly, I start to see more and more of these students following around their advisors like puppy dogs, clutching an interview card with them. Soon after, the real transformations begin. The boy who I usually have to ask to pull his pants up or take his hat off appears one day with a fresh haircut and a shirt and tie. A young woman who is late to school almost every day tells her friend that she can’t stay in the lunchroom any longer because she has an interview and does not want to be late. The chronically absent student suddenly starts showing up. Internship has begun.
Internship gives students the opportunity to take a step into the real world from their very safe classroom environments. After several years of group work in our classrooms, individual responsibility is suddenly in the spotlight. They must now use the skills they have learned from their classmates and teachers at an International school to stand on their own. They need to use their collaborative skills to work with their mentor and co-workers. They need to use their language skills to communicate with native speakers in order to advocate for themselves and others. They need to use their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills in order to accomplish important, authentic tasks. Is it challenging? Yes! Is it scary? Yes! Can they do it? Absolutely.
I love this time of year because the growth, development and learning during the internship semester are exponential and evident. It is true experiential learning. Students are applying what they have learned in their classrooms to a professional work environment and they are overwhelmingly successful. Why? For all the reasons why we know experiential education works: it’s real and authentic, which is inherently motivating. As a former advisee of mine once boldly noted when comparing what he studied in class to his internship experience, “this is great for Jeopardy, but gaining experience at internship is worth more than a hundred textbooks.” This experience also better prepares our students for the challenges they will face after graduation. Not only do students make tremendous gains in their language development and workplace skills but the relationships and sense of self that they develop are critical to their success in college and the world of work.
Now that students have just completed their first week of internship and the administrative whirlwind of site selections, interviews, and placements has died down, evidence of this growth is already obvious to me: nerves are a little calmer, confidence is a little stronger. When I look at them now, I can see that they are ready to get down to the business of learning.