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Where Are They Now?

Seniors Leave School Early for Internships

Senior Ezra Feen stopped going to his non-AP classes after Friday, March 31. All the seniors did. Instead of attending his regular classes, Ezra is interning from April 17 to May 15 with the company Move Insole. Other organizations taking on AJA seniors this spring as interns include Spicy Peach, AJA itself, and the ACLU of Georgia.

All of these internships are part of the AJA High School’s new Senior Internship program, which has both inspired hope and drawn criticism from AJA’s seniors. As part of this program, senior students have the opportunity to intern with Georgia organizations and opt out of non-AP classes. These internships must be in person, and they must provide students with a supervisor with whom they must meet once a week to discuss progress in their work. The program expects students to spend approximately 12 hours per week in their internship’s workplace. It also requires students to write a two to four page paper reflecting on their internship experience once they have completed it.

Head of High School Dr. Sim Pearl hopes that the Senior Internship program will alleviate what he terms a “pandemic” of “senioritis,” the tendency of senior high school students to lose interest in classes during the end of their second semester. According to Dr. Pearl, by providing “the opportunity to get outside of the school walls” and exposing students to “applied knowledge outside of the school space,” internships will encourage students to be productive with their end of year time. He hopes the internships will help students see what it takes to enter a career path and grow “healthy self confidence” and independence.

Despite expressing hopefulness for the theoretical idea of senior internships, many seniors expressed unhappiness with the way senior internships were put into practice this year.

Many senior students echoed these hopes. Senior Eli Cohen, who is interning with the landscaping business A & P Designers, hopes to learn important life skills from his internship. “I think it’ll be an interesting opportunity for me to personally learn the ins and outs of starting a business and running a business day to day,” he said. Senior Artemis Barnwell, whose internship with Spicy Peach involves working on their website, similarly expected to learn, in her own words, “something new, something that might be useful for my future.” 

Despite expressing hopefulness for the theoretical idea of senior internships, many seniors expressed dissatisfaction with the way senior internships were put into practice this year. “They didn’t do a great job of helping people find internships,” said senior Rebecca Solon, who is interning with Susan Morray, AJA’s director of development. 

Senior Miriam Sirota felt similarly frustrated with a lack of help finding internships. She originally hoped to intern in the veterinary field, and she submitted to Dr. Pearl the contact information of someone working in that field, under the misguided impression that he would reach out to them to facilitate the internship. When that did not happen, she realized that she would have to do the logistical work of setting up the internship herself. Intimidated by having to figure out for herself the details of her internship, from where she would intern to how she would be transported there, and with the deadline for internship decisions soon to come, she decided to fall back on her back-up plan and intern with her father who manufactures dentures. Although interning with her dad was not her first choice, she is still excited to “get a taste of what it’s like to work,” and she thinks internships are a good idea, even if this year’s implementation of them “feels very rushed.”

According to Dr. Pearl, much of the responsibility for finding an internship was intentionally left with the student. He hoped the program would make seniors ask themselves questions like “What is it that I want to do, and how do I go about doing it?” He believes that the administration can only do so much to help students ask these questions. “It’s not on a silver platter,” he said. Nevertheless, the Senior Internship Program Packet, which was distributed to seniors in late January, not only outlined the program’s goals and requirements but also offered some help to seniors in finding their internships, such as an example script for what a senior might say when calling a potential employer.

Senior Doran Levin did not feel burdened by having to explore internship options on his own. He found an internship with the ACLU of Georgia. Although he is happy with his internship choice and he approves of senior internships conceptually, he still resents what he sees as restrictive requirements for internships. He felt that his “options were pretty limited” by the requirements that his internship be in person and provide a supervisor willing to meet for an hour once a week. He thinks these requirements severely limit the potential types of internships available to seniors. 

Eli noted that possible internships were also severely limited by organizations’ requisite willingness to be flexible with their intern’s schedule because many seniors still have to attend school for some amount of time nearly every day for AP classes.

Dr. Pearl acknowledged these criticisms, but defended the policies regarding internship requirements. “It’s not in a vacuum,” he said. In his mind, the requirements were not ideal, but many of them were necessary because “there has to be accountability.”

Still, he understands student frustration with some policies. “We’re launching this this year. We’re creating something. Whenever there’s a prototype, you’ll learn from the prototype,” he said. Dr. Pearl hopes that in future years the internship program can learn from this year’s “prototype.” This is one of the reasons that students are required to write papers about their experiences. Dr. Pearl hopes that in these papers students can provide important feedback on the internship process, so that it can improve in the future.

Although they are critical of certain practical details of this year’s summer internship program, many seniors understand that new programs require time to evolve into their full potential. Despite her criticism of the lack of guidance provided by the school in finding internships this year, Rebecca believes, like many seniors, in the positive potential of internships for seniors in theory. She said, “If they stick with the internship, with that concept, for a few years, and tweak it and make it better and better and better, I think in a few years, it will be great.”

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