As in all Big Picture schools, MetWest has structured the academic year to have students search for and enter into two-day a week unpaid internships during school hours. Called Learning Through Internship (LTI), there is a coordinator that oversees the entire program. Michael Cellemme heads this part of MetWest’s program. He is the only staff member that also worked as a Teacher/Advisor at the first Big Picture school (The Met) in Providence (RI). He is responsible for finding sites for internships, interviewing potential mentors, making matches between individual students and mentors, and monitoring what goes on in the internship.
Local mentors take on the responsibility of helping a student acquire the work and social skills necessary to succeed in a business, government agency, educational and health organization, and similar Oakland groups. Since 2002 when MetWest opened, the school has placed students with more than 500 organizations, including local hospitals, radio stations and restaurants to provide learning opportunities. Here are media descriptions of students and their internships.
MetWest’s individualized approach has made a huge difference for Kris McCoy. McCoy had struggled in school and was involved in an armed robbery part-way through his eighth grade year. He served time in juvenile hall for that offense. He also got into several fights his first year at MetWest.
“He came with an ankle bracelet, and with visits from his parole officer,” said McCoy’s teacher, Shannon Carey. “And needing to be the alpha male and needing to show MetWest who he was and that he shouldn’t be messed with. He was way more concerned with that than he was with his academics or his future career.”
If the internships are a big draw to this high school, the close-knit relationships are what make the program work. Advisors like Carey each have a cohort of 20 students that they follow throughout four years of high school. Carey gets to know each student and their families well along the way. She also teaches English and social studies to that group, often weaving students’ personal interests into the assignments and offering a lot of choice within the whole group instruction.
She kept a plant in the middle of the room because she and her students were circling up so often…. In those circles they would talk about how to repair the many instances of harm that were happening. “He would have been kicked out of another high school if he had been fighting the way he had been when he first arrived here,” Carey said.
Instead, McCoy began to trust Carey, something she says is very important for him to learn. He found himself an internship at an auto repair shop. His boss, Edward Lam, gave him a chance when no one else would, and treated him like an employee, while teaching him ever more complicated mechanical skills. In consultation with McCoy’s family, Carey decided to allow him to stay at that internship for several years, a fairly uncommon practice at MetWest.
“For students, like Kris, who really struggle with positive adult relationships, I see no reason to interrupt that relationship,” Carey said. “He can go deep in the content and he can go really deep in the really caring, trusting, loving relationship with adult men in his life.”
Or consider the story of Jose Gomez who interned at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland (CA) schools.
Or see the YouTube video on Karen Perez interning at Hopalong Animal Rescue.
The theory of action behind Big Picture schools such as MetWest using two-day a week internships is straightforward. By interning with mentors at a work site, teenagers enter the world of adults beyond family and school. Working with adults and picking up different technical and social skills broadens and deepens learning by engaging their hands, hearts, and minds. That engagement is deepened when MetWest teacher/advisers and LTI coordinator meet with mentors and students on-site. Such personal connections bridge the workplace and academic classes as teachers make curricular choices during the rest of the week. Connected learning occur also with Senior Thesis Projects (see post) that invariably grow out of internships. Or as MetWest staff puts it: “College Prep through Real-World Learning.”
Internships, then, lead to learning about how adults work in organizations and the repertoire of skills needed to succeed at a job while applying that learning to academics (and the reverse as well). Thus, through personal engagement between teachers, mentors and students the two worlds of work and classroom come together to create deeper, more meaningful, and connected learning. That’s the theory.
Internships, however, do not always work out for students. A few are fired for not showing up or being late. Some have to be re-trained. Most students and mentors do fit together.
MetWest internships occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each Teacher/Advisor works with the students in their internships as well as classrooms (see teacher Shannon Carey in above article). The next post describes what I observed recently during an afternoon with LTI Mike Cellemme working with students at MetWest on finding internships and then visiting an intern at a site in Oakland.